Harvest of the Month | April | Asparagus
What is Asparagus?
Asparagus is a unique spring vegetable with a short growing season that runs from April to June. This stalky plant has long been recognized for its medicinal properties – specifically in relation to the relief it provides for digestive issues. Asparagus was originally found in the coastal regions of the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor areas. Today, China is the largest producer of asparagus with almost 600,000 tons per year; the United States harvests quite a bit too – over 100,000 tons per year.
Asparagus is high in folic acid, a nutrient that helps prevent birth defects, aids in blood cell formation, and averts liver disease. Asparagus is also high in vitamins K and A. Additionally, this vegetable is very low in calories and contains no fat or cholesterol.
How to Select the Best Asparagus
Asparagus spears are available in white, purple and green (the most common) and are sold in bundles. Look for bundles with firm spears and closed tips and make sure the stalks and tips do not appear dry. It is best to eat your asparagus soon after you purchase it. Although, it will keep in the refrigerator for a few days if you place it in a covered bowl of water or in a zip-lock bag wrapped in moist paper towels.
How to Grow Asparagus
Asparagus is grown either by planting the crowns early in the spring or by transplanting young seedlings. When the asparagus spears are between six and eight inches tall, it is time to harvest. The spears should be cut or snapped off at the soil level. Since asparagus is a perennial, it will continue to come back year after year if you care for it properly.
1 pound fusilli or rotini (spiral-shaped pasta)
1 pound slender asparagus spears, trimmed, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel
2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon plus sprigs for garnish
1 5-to 5 1/2-ounce log soft fresh goat cheese
Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until almost tender, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes. Add asparagus and cook until pasta is tender but still firm to bite, about 3 minutes longer.
Meanwhile, combine oil, lemon peel, and chopped tarragon in large bowl. Coarsely crumble in goat cheese.
Drain pasta and asparagus, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid. Add hot pasta, asparagus, and 1/4 cup reserved cooking liquid to bowl with cheese mixture. Toss to coat, adding more reserved liquid if dry. Season pasta to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to shallow platter. Garnish with tarragon sprigs.