rebecca katz Transforming Health Through the Power of Food
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The Elegant Ladies of Spring




Just a few weeks ago I was strolling through the aisles of the Marin County farmers market. Suddenly, an invisible whisper tickled my ear. Like a child just out of eyeshot of the tree on Christmas dawn, I thrilled to their imminence.

A stretch of the neck brought me within earshot of Chris Zuckerman, who runs a produce booth at the market. I cooed at Chris sotto voce.

“They’re coming soon, aren’t they?”

Chris turned his head and smiled. “As a matter of fact, yes,” he said. Then he dropped the time bomb I needed so badly to hear:

“Next week.”

“Wow! Early this year! I’ll be here to greet them,” I confirmed, the transaction sealed.

So this week I went back to the market, and there they were, lined up, long and lean and dressed in green, looking like a chorus line of Martian Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, let’s give a round of applause for that most delicate, elegant, and luxurious of all spring vegetables, Ms. Asparagus, 2010.

Now I know that asparagus is daunting to some people. I remember when I was little thinking that they resembled tiny trees. A wise Italian cook gave me the inside skinny on preparing asparagus. She said it’s best to peel away the tough, stringy outer layer, exposing the sweet flesh beneath. When they’re finished roasting — and we’re not talking a lot of time here, maybe ten minutes - you’ll have a real treat. Roasted asparagus is so naturally sweet it’s like eating candy. You probably don’t believe me now, but try a piece as you take the asparagus out of the oven and you’ll be lucky if the rest of the stalks make it to the table. Just ask my informant Chris Z., the Asparagus King.

These long and skinny stalks are a surprisingly potent force in healthy eating.

Health Supportive Qualities:

I call asparagus the great spring cleaner. It’s a natural diuretic, encouraging the body to flush out toxins. Asparagus contains substantial amounts of aspartic acid, an amino acid that neutralizes excess amounts of ammonia that linger in our bodies and make us tired after a long winter. Asparagus is a good source of chlorophyll, iron, potassium, vitamin C and B vitamins, especially folic acid and the antioxidant glutathione, which can all lower the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Growing Season:

March through May:

The slender regal asparagus plant gets its name from the Greek word (Asparagos) for sprout or shoot, since it shoots straight up from the ground.

In the spring, an asparagus bed looks like a miniature tree farm. “The warmer the weather the faster they grow — as much as four inches a day, ” says Chris, who runs Zuckerman Farms.

Selection:

Asparagus breaks down rapidly after harvest, losing sugar and moisture. “Look at the butt,” says Chris Z., “If it’s shriveled and dry, you know it’s old.” The spears should be bright green from the tip to two inches above the bottom. The tips should be tight and compact.

Storage:

Refrigerate in a plastic bag. Store in the coolest part of your refrigerator. If you need to keep them for more than a day and they’re a little limp, rehydrate them by cutting the ends and standing them in an inch or so of water and refrigerate for an hour.

In The Kitchen:

The ends should be cut or broken off about two inches from the bottom before cooking. Asparagus can be roasted, steamed, sauteed or broiled. Whatever technique used, asparagus should be cooked briefly for maxium flavor and nutritional benefits. Here’s my favorite way to eat asparagus.

Bet You Can’t Eat Just One Roasted Asparagus:

Ingredients:

1 bunch of asparagus
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Spritz of lemon juice
Shaved Parmesan cheese or ground walnuts for garnish

Procedure:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus. Peel the outer layer of the stalk beginning one inch below the tips, and place in a single layer on a large sheet pan.

Drizzle the asparagus with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Roast about 10 minutes (less if the asparagus is thin), shaking the sheet pan to turn the asparagus once during roasting.

Transfer to a platter, spritz with a little lemon juice, and sprinkle with Parmesan Cheese or crushed walnuts.

Serves 4

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