When you start seeing an abundance of asparagus at a decent price in stores, it's a good bet that spring is here. Thick spears from California are common in stores now, and Michigan-grown asparagus will soon follow.
Choose spears that are brilliant green with closed tips that have a purplish tinge. Asparagus is a good source of folic acid, fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants. If you're counting calories, the bonus is that five spears (about 3 1/2 ounces) have 25 calories, no fat and 2 grams of fiber.
Asparagus is usually sold banded together. Instead of individually trimming ends, keep the bands on. Hold all the spears in place and cut off a quarter-inch or so from the ends.
Some say the best way to trim the woodsy ends of spears is to snap them off. When you snap them, they should break at a natural point of tenderness. Or, if you want to take the time, peel them about 1 inch up from the ends.
I like to roast asparagus in the oven until it's just crisp-tender. When roasting, watch it carefully. It should keep its shape and have a bit of resistance when you bite into it.
A drizzling of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt, pepper and other seasonings will finish it just right. Place the spears on a baking sheet with sides and drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with seasonings. Roll the spears around on the sheet so all of them get coated. Roast at 400-425 degrees for 8-10 minutes.
Another way to cook asparagus is to blanch it in boiling water for 1 minute and quickly cool it under cold water to stop the cooking. Serve it immediately. Steam asparagus for just 2-3 minutes so it stays slightly firm but tender. Overcooked asparagus is stringy and mushy.
This recipe is ideal for two, matching sweet balsamic-glazed scallops with crunchy asparagus.
If you're loaded with fresh asparagus, consider using it raw. Thinly slice spears on the diagonal and toss them with salad greens. You also can cut spears in 1-inch pieces, blanch or steam them and add them to pasta dishes.
Scallops and Roasted Asparagus
6 large sea scallops (about 2 ounces each)
Sea salt or kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Lemon pepper seasoning to taste or your favorite all-purpose seasoning blend (such as Mrs. Dash)
1 teaspoon crushed dried tarragon or basil
10 asparagus spears, rinsed well, ends trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/3 cup white wine or chicken broth
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Rinse and pat dry the scallops. Sprinkle them on both sides with salt, lemon pepper or seasoning blend and tarragon or basil. Set aside.
On a sided baking sheet, place the asparagus. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and sprinkle with salt, ground black pepper and seasoning blend. Toss to coat all the spears.
Place in the oven and roast for 8 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, warm the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the scallops and sear until browned on one side, about 3 minutes. Turn over and brown on the other side, about 3 minutes more. Remove the scallops from the skillet. Deglaze the pan with the white wine, heating until it bubbles. Add the balsamic vinegar and cook about 2 minutes. Return the scallops to the skillet and heat through.
Remove the asparagus from the oven and serve alongside the scallops with a bit of the balsamic pan sauce. Serves 2.
Per serving: 298 calories (28 percent from fat ), 9 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat), 8 grams carbohydrates, 41 grams protein, 470 milligrams sodium, 90 milligrams cholesterol, 2 grams fiber.