Nothing says spring like the first local asparagus, when the tender green stalks are at their most delicious. Besides an irresistibly sweet, grassy flavor, asparagus boasts fiber, potassium and antioxidants such as vitamins A and C.
Look for glossy spears with scales that lie flat against the stalk. The tips should be tight, firm and smell fresh, and the woody ends should look moist and freshly cut. Whether you prefer your asparagus thin and delicate or plump and meaty, be sure to buy spears that are about the same size to ensure even cooking. Store them standing upright in an inch of water in a glass or jar, up to three days.
Before cooking, rinse the asparagus to remove any grit. To trim, snap off the tough end of one stalk -- it will naturally break where the tender flesh begins. Gather the rest of the bunch and, using the trimmed stalk as a guide, cut off the remaining ends with one quick slice. There's no need to peel asparagus unless the skin is especially thick. (If you like, use the trimmed bits in a vegetable stock.)
Everyday Food magazine offers quick, healthy solutions for everyday meals -- from the kitchens of Martha Stewart Living. For more recipes and additional tips, visit www.marthastewart.com/everydayfood.
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Steamed asparagus with brown butter and hazelnuts
1. Set a steamer basket in a saucepan with 2 inches simmering water. Add 2 bunches asparagus (2 pounds), trimmed. Cover and steam until crisp-tender, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a platter.
2. Discard water and wipe pan dry. Heat 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut in pieces, over medium, swirling pan occasionally, until golden brown and most of foam has subsided, about 5 to 6 minutes. Pour over asparagus and toss to combine. Season with coarse salt and ground pepper. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup toasted hazelnuts (skins rubbed off), chopped, and serve immediately.
Nutritional information per serving: 217 calories, 18 grams fat (8 grams saturated fat), 7 grams protein, 10 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fiber and 74 percent of calories from fat.
Beef and asparagus curry
1 can (13.5 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk, shaken well
1/4 cup red curry paste
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 bunch asparagus (1 pound), trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound sirloin steak, trimmed and thinly sliced against the grain
Cooked rice noodles, lime wedges and fresh cilantro leaves, for serving
1. In a large wok or skillet, heat 1/2 cup coconut milk over medium-high, stirring, until shiny and thick, about 2 minutes. Add curry paste and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add remaining coconut milk, broth, fish sauce and brown sugar and bring to a simmer. Add bell pepper and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add asparagus and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Add steak and cook, stirring, until cooked through, about 2 minutes. Serve over noodles with lime wedges and cilantro.
Nutritional information per serving (without noodles): 410 calories, 25 grams fat (20 grams saturated fat), 31 grams protein, 17 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber and 55 percent of calories from fat.
Asparagus and potato flatbread
Spice it up: Sprinkle flatbread with red-pepper flakes for a little kick.
All-purpose flour, for rolling
1 pound pizza dough, thawed if frozen, divided in half
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium Yukon Gold potato, peeled and thinly sliced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 bunch asparagus (1 pound), trimmed and shaved with a vegetable peeler
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled (1 cup)
1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees, with racks in middle and lower thirds. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into two 6-by-16-inch ovals and transfer to two parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets. Brush each with 1 tablespoon oil.
2. In a medium bowl, toss potatoes with 2 teaspoons oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange potatoes on dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Bake until edges of crusts are golden and potatoes are beginning to crisp around edges, about 12 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through.
3. Meanwhile, toss asparagus with 2 teaspoons oil and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to 450 degrees, remove sheets from oven and top flatbread with asparagus. Return sheets to oven and bake until asparagus is crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Top with cheese and bake until cheese is warmed through, about 3 minutes. Drizzle each flatbread with 1 teaspoon oil, then cut into wedges to serve.
Nutritional information per serving: 346 calories, 17 grams fat (4 grams saturated fat), 11 grams protein, 43 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber and 44 percent of calories from fat.
Sauteed asparagus with bacon
In large skillet, cook 2 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces, over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Add 2 bunches asparagus (2 pounds), trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces, to skillet and season with coarse salt and ground pepper. Cook, stirring, until asparagus is tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in bacon, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard and 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley.
Nutritional information per serving: 112 calories, 5 grams fat (2 grams saturated fat), 6 grams protein, 10 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber and 40 percent of calories from fat.