Eating seasonally can get a wee bit mundane as winter trails off into early spring. When those first stalks of local asparagus start showing up in the produce section, it’s hard not to feel like you’re a survivor. Those verdant batons are harbingers of sunnier times ahead, when farmers markets contain more than gourds and leafy greens.
Washington is the largest producer of asparagus within the United States. Roughly 5,000 planted acres span a 100-mile radius from the Tri-Cities into the Yakima Valley and Walla Walla. Local asparagus usually hits produce shelves and farmers markets late March through mid-June. Farmers have to harvest asparagus daily, as the stalks can grow up to 10 inches in one day during the warmest part of the season.
Asparagus is simple to prepare — boil for a couple of minutes in salted water, roast with olive oil and salt in the oven, chop, or stir fry — and packs a good nutritional punch as a source of fiber, folate, vitamins A and C, and glutathione (an antioxidant and anticarcinogen).
Select spears that are odorless, with firm green stalks and dry compact tips. The diameter of the spear does not indicate freshness, flavor, or texture and is merely a matter of personal preference. To store, wrap the ends in a wet paper towel inside a plastic bag, and refrigerate. Use it as soon as possible — the sugar turns to starch rapidly, which impacts the flavor.
Spring Asparagus Soup with Avocado Cream
Put that gorgeous asparagus to good use with this heart-healthy spring soup, courtesy of personal chef Kirsten Helle. Makes 4-6 servings.
1 teaspoon healthy oil/fat of your choice
4 green onions, chopped
1 carrot, shredded
1 bunch asparagus, woody ends removed, chopped (save a few of the pretty tops to blanch lightly for garnish, if you like)
1/2 teaspoon onion granules/powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic granules/powder
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon, optional
Pinch kosher/sea salt to taste
2 tablespoons white wine
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3 cups low-sodium chicken
or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons cream, optional
Fresh black or white pepper
1 very ripe avocado
Squeeze fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon cream
- In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the vegetables and seasonings. Sauté until the vegetables are fragrant and slightly softened. Stir in the wine and lemon juice, and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, and simmer for approximately 8 minutes, until the vegetables are soft but the asparagus is still vibrant green.
- Turn off the heat, and purée with an immersion blender or in a traditional blender. Stir in cream and pepper, if using. Taste for seasoning, and adjust with a pinch of salt or a spritz of fresh lemon juice to elevate the flavor, if necessary.
- To make the avocado cream, whisk the avocado with the cream and lemon juice until very smooth and creamy. Serve the soup warm or slightly room temperature with a dollop of the avocado cream, and garnish with fresh herbs and/or a few blanched tops of the asparagus.