Asparagus, the most beloved vegetable for springtime recipes.
There’s nothing that speaks springtime like asparagus: those who gather them or grow them know well, this ancient vegetable is distinctively seasonal, good only in some periods of the year and perfect for some of the most beloved recipes like omelets, risotto, main dishes and crepes.
Asparagus, found in Asia Minor already 2000 years ago, are filled with beneficial nutritional proprieties and are almost completely without particular drawbacks. In this article we will write about varieties, from wild asparagus to white ones, of its uses in kitchen preparations in some of the most beloved recipes, of its properties, of their harvesting period and about their ideal preservation.
Asparagus varieties: white, green, violet? The complete list
There are no true best asparagus varieties, because each type on the market has a unique taste and appearance, depending on the type of cultivation and on the terroir in which they are harvested. Generally speaking, we could say that the most well-known and used asparagus cultivars are:
- White asparagus
- Green asparagus
- Mezzago pink asparagus (grown in Monza and Brianza area)
- Violet asparagus (a unique cultivar, typical of Savona province)
- Wild asparagus (characterized by a thinner stem diameter, they grow spontaneously in the woods or in the country, they have a typical bitter taste)
Among these types of asparagus, the biggest difference is the one between cultivated and wild asparagus: in fact the first tend to be bigger, with a short and stiff stem that develops up to the side stems.
Asparagus plants: how is asparagus grown?
Asparagus cultivation is not suited for small orchards: while wild asparagus grow spontaneously in the countryside, uncultivated areas or in woods, those grown derive from the Asparagus officinalis plant and need a lot of care, space and time.
Asparagus, in fact, are cultivated in warmer months (mainly in June) after creating a dedicated asparagus field with the plants: in this case the first asparagus can be collected two years after their cultivation. For example, if you plant asparagus in June, you may gather them after two or three years, and the asparagus field will continue producing for at least twelve years
In some cases, asparagus are cultivated in dedicated greenhouses, depending on their variety: White asparagus for example require little to no light, like violet asparagus, typical in Albenga area in Savona province, which cultivation may be conducted also with the help of heated fields.
Asparagus proprieties, drawbacks and benefits
Asparagus are renown and beloved for their nutritional proprieties and because of their benefits, thanks to their high mineral content like chromium, which is important in the process of absorption of sugars. This characteristic make asparagus perfect from a therapeutic point of view because they are precious allies in contrasting type 2 diabetes. A reasonable asparagus consumption, in fact, allows for a correct absorption of sugars and glucose in blood and facilitates insulin production, as widely demonstrated by a recent studies conducted by Cambridge’s British Journal of Nutrition. Asparagus is composed by folic acid, vitamin A and B, phosphor, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, water(which is what composes them for an overall value of 90%) and, most importantly asparagine. Asparagine irritates the kidney’s epithelium: for this very reason asparagus are diuretic and detoxing, a characteristic that makes them the perfect vegetable to improve kidney functioning and in expelling the liquids contained in our tissues by stimulating diuresis and, therefore, fighting cellulite.
Asparagus is not a caloric vegetable, as they contain mainly water (90%) and very little carbs: specifically, 100gr of raw asparagus contain about 29kcal, while boiled asparagus contain an average of 41kcal. Wild asparagus are slightly more caloric than those grown in greenhouses. Asparagus’ calorie content, as per every case, depend on how it is cooked, specifically:
- A portion of asparagus with butter and parmesan cheese with 200gr of asparagus amount to a caloric intake of 160kcal.
- Calories in a dish of risotto with asparagus amount to 365kcal
- 100 grams of steamed asparagus have approximatively 22 calories
- A dish of omelet has 110 calories
- A dish of asparagus and eggs has a calorie content of 200kcal
Cooking with asparagus
How to cook asparagus?
This vegetable lends itself to many recipes and different types of cooking as it is very easy to cook and ideal in quick and light recipes. Besides boiling, asparagus can be cooked in the oven, maybe gratin, or stir-fried with a dash of oil and a clove of garlic. Even if it is quite uncommon, it’s possible to eat raw asparagus but only after washing them thoroughly: have you ever tried a salad with fresh asparagus, raw, cut in pieces, with a dash of lemon, oil, salt and pepper? We also match it with a bit of fresh cheese of a pecorino cheese with its intense flavor.
Asparagus cooking water: what to do with it?
Another way to eat asparagus is by boiling them for around 15 minutes (you will easily understand when they are cooked): but remember that, if you want to, you can preserve their cooking water because it will be useful for:
- Seasoning Risotto and use it as vegetable broth.
- Drinking asparagus cooking water as a detox infusion, without exaggerating and avoiding to overburden kidneys)
- Cooking vegetables.
Matching asparagus: short guide to springtime different tastes.
All dairy-based ingredients, cheese and butter included, are perfect if you are looking for something to match asparagus with: try them with hard cheeses, like Parmigiano or Taleggio, but also with hollandaise sauce.
Another way to match asparagus is by following the rule of strong or sulfurous tastes, like crustaceans (shrimps), garlic (perfect for flavoring stir-fried asparagus) and eggs. Here is a list of matchings with asparagus that may inspire you in the kitchen:
- Asparagus and lemon
- Asparagus and mushrooms (eggs, asparagus and mushrooms: thinking about something?)
- Asparagus and potatoes
- Asparagus and white fish
- Asparagus and Parma ham
- Asparagus and eggs
Asparagus risotto: recipe without butter.
Asparagus risotto is an easy recipe for a springtime dish with an intense and elegant flavor, that can be matched to typical ingredients like shrimps, cheese and pancetta. The preparation for this dish is very easy: we offer you a recipe for a risotto with asparagus and without butter that will let you reuse asparagus cooking water like a vegetable broth.
The ingredients you need to make asparagus risotto are:
- Carnaroli Rice
- Extravirgin olive oil
- Green, white or wild asparagus
- Vegetable broth or Asparagus cooking water
- Parmigiano Reggiano
- White wine
Preparing asparagus risotto
To cook a good asparagus risotto choose your favorite asparagus variety (you can use white or green ones, maybe wild) and clean them: wild asparagus can be used the way they are, because they are small and soft, whereas cultivated asparagus need to be cut at the spot where the stem is more woody, allowing us to use their softer part. Cut cultivate asparagus in thin slices.
Cooking the asparagus
Cook asparagus in a pot or in an asparagus steamer with salted hot water for few minutes, paying attention in leaving them crunchy but not too much. Drain the asparagus putting aside the cooking water that will be later used as broth.
Cooking the rice
In a pan suitable for cooking risotto, warm a shallot clove with olive oil and, after few minutes, add rice and toast it. Deglaze with a sprinkle of white wine and, immediately after, proceed with rice cooking (refer to cooking times reported on its packaging) adding vegetable broth or asparagus cooking water from time to time. When you’re halfway through cooking add the asparagus (or cream of asparagus) and continue stirring. After cooking, if wild asparagus are too bitter, you can add a dash of lemon juice and some parmigiano cheese.
Can I freeze asparagus for storing?
Just as good as they are rare, fresh asparagus arrive on the market only in some periods of the year, given their seasonal nature. If you really like them, you can preserve asparagus following some easy steps and some methods of preservation, that will allow you to freeze them and have them available for up to 4 or 5 months.
After washing asparagus, you have to boil them in a pot with hot water for a maximum of 3 minutes; after this procedure, you have to drain them and let them cool on a cloth or in a salad bowl, drying them from time to time with care. After this process is done, you may freeze the asparagus by using specific freezer food bags. Frozen asparagus can be used up to 4 months. Cooking frozen asparagus is very easy: it’s possible to cook frozen asparagus just after taking them out of the freezer.