This post is about another recipe I found on the New York Times, in Martha Rose Shulman’s Recipes for Health series. Besides being really tasty, asparagus is a nutritional power house. And its one of the first fresh green vegetables that is available here in the spring. (Okay, actually the asparagus here is usually white, but I don’t like it very much, and always try to find green asparagus.) I usually roast asparagus and then drizzle it with balsamic vinegar and parmesan cheese, but I had a big bunch of parsley in the fridge and decided to try something new—steamed asparagus with gremolata.
I didn’t quite follow the recipe. I mixed the parsley, garlic, lemon (juice and zest) and olive oil in my mini food processor. I guess I made a salsa verde more than a gremolata, except this version didn’t have any thickener so it was more liquidy. The salsa verde tasted good, but I didn’t think it really did anything for the asparagus. The dish tasted like asparagus with salsa verde on top. It didn’t really meld into anything more than the sum of its parts.
Also, if you haven’t read it yet, there was an interesting article in the NYT a few years ago by Harold McGee (author of several books on science in cooking) about asparagus’s “breaking point”. McGee reports that the standard “snapping” method is not very reliable:
Hence the cook’s challenge. Some portion of each spear’s butt end is inedible….Peeling deeply will remove the fibrous sheath (and is essential for white asparagus), but it’s a lot of work and the spears end up oddly two-toned and two-textured. So how do you know where to trim a spear so that it won’t be unpleasantly stringy at one end? … The standard advice, going back to Fannie Farmer and beyond, is to “let the asparagus tell you” by bending the stalk until it snaps…. I have wondered just how reliable snapping is. Over the course of a few weeks, I snapped a total of 130 spears, then steamed them and bit into the wide end. About a third were unpleasantly stringy.
Instead, McGee recommends trimming the asparagus so that each stalk is about 6-7 inches, and then very thinly slicing the base. I tried this once, and then roasted the tops and the base slices together in the oven, but my slices didn’t cook well and in the end were still rather fibrous. Maybe I didn’t cut them thin enough.
A final note about nutrition: I never thought of asparagus as unhealthy, but neither did I consider it a superfood like leafy greens. But it turns out that it is. Like jerusalem artichokes, asparagus contains a good dose of inulin. It’s also is surprisingly high in protein. (A surprising 26% of its calories are from protein.) When I eat asparagus I’ll often cook a pound for Derek and me. That ends up being about sixteen spears of asparagus per person. Sixteen spears contain only 50 calories, and even boiled they provide 152% of vitamin K, 90% of folate, 31% of vitamin C, 26% of B1, 21% of selenium, 20% of B2, 18% of vitamin E (which I personally rarely get enough of), 15% of choline (another nutrient that’s hard to get as a vegetarian), 13% of potassium, 13% of B3, 12% of iron, and 10% of zinc. Many of these percentages are even higher if you steam the asparagus rather than boil it, or if you’re a woman, since the numbers I quoted are based on the RDAs for men. In comparison, 1.5 cups of boiled Kale (also 50 calories) has more vitamin K, beta carotene, vitamin C, and calcium, but compared to asparagus it has much less protein, vitamin E, zinc, selenium, folate, and B vitamins, and almost no choline.