Asparagus: A veggie for all ages

May 22, 2012|By CHRIS COPLEY |
  • Lifestyle assistant editor Chris Copley shows his bacon-wrapped asparagus and sugared asparagus, two tasty recipes that might entice reluctant kids to try eating asparagus.
By Rowan Copley

Asparagus is a vegetable made for kids.

Like bananas, asparagus stalks have a playful shape. Like carrots, asparagus may be eaten raw or cooked. Like broccoli, asparagus has two distinct parts — a fleshy stalk and a tip with more flavor.

And like sweet potatoes or beets, asparagus can be taken in either a savory or sweet direction.

Start slow

Asparagus stalks are the fresh shoots of a plant that, when full grown, resembles a lacy Christmas tree with red berries. Full-grown asparagus is woody and unpalatable, but young stalks, harvested when no more than 10 inches tall, are delicate and mild.

But it's a green vegetable and sometimes fibrous, so children might hesitate to try it.

So how to proceed?

Missy Chase Lapine, the New York-based author of the Sneaky Chef cookbook series, suggests hiding vegetables.

She encourages parents to puree vegetables or fruits and "sneak" small amounts of produce into dishes kids love, such as baked goods, lasagna, smoothies or mac and cheese.

Part of Lapine's goal is simply to get kids to eat more vegetables.

"First, when you are sneaking them, you're suddenly transforming something they don't like into something they love. Cauliflower included in meatballs or pizza sauce. You're making food kid friendly," she said.

Once kids know they are eating vegetables, they might also realize they don't object to the flavor as much as they thought.

"There's a palate acclimation. Their palate gets used to these flavors," Lapine said. "And what might seem bitter at first begins to seem normal."

Make food approachable

One key to getting your child to try asparagus without hiding it is to cook it minimally. Barb Tritle displays and markets fresh produce at Blue Mountain Farm's stall at the Hagerstown City Farmers Market. Tritle said overcooked asparagus gets grayish and mushy — not exactly enticing. For anybody.

Asparagus may be cooked in several methods — steamed, roasted, boiled, grilled, microwaved — but make sure to cook until just tender, not overcooked.

Another key to making food interesting is to make it look interesting. Classy restaurants arrange food carefully on a plate to engage with diners. Savvy home cooks can do the same.

Some ideas:

  •  Make raw or cooked asparagus puree. You can hide this in a soup or pasta sauce, or serve as a side dish with butter, salt and pepper, like mashed potatoes.
  •  Arrange thin stalks like a starburst in the center of a pizza.
  •  Cut stalks in half and "plant" the tips in a dollop of thick cheese sauce, like a forest of mini-trees.
  •  Use asparagus stalks as a fence to contain a sauce on a child's plate, or as dividers between foods.
  •  Asparagus is also a vegetable — cooked or raw — that food etiquette says can be eaten with your fingers.

Try it at home

As an adult, I first encountered asparagus one Easter at a buffet. It was steamed and served with Hollandaise sauce. Delicious. My children have eaten asparagus this way for years.

They are now grown, and two of them are home this month. So when I began working on this story, I wanted to try something new.

Several weeks ago, I had asked Michael and Krissy James of Blueberry Hill Farm about asparagus and their two children, Lewis, 3, and Annabella, 8. The day I called, Krissy was serving sugared asparagus. Michael reported the Annabella ate it, but Lewis said, "No, thanks."

I was intrigued. I'd never heard of sugared asparagus, so I found several recipes online, read them and came up with one of my own. Lemon, coriander and nutmeg seemed to go well with asparagus' somewhat grassy scent. My kids and my wife loved it.

I also wanted to try wrapping asparagus with bacon, because I know kids like many things wrapped in bacon. That recipe, also, was a hit.

And like so much good cooking, experimenting can lead to good things.

Chris' bacon-wrapped asparagus


1 bundle asparagus, about 20 spears

1 pound bacon

If your skewers are wood, soak them in water so they won't burn when you broil them.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Snap off tough bottoms of stems. Cut the asparagus in 1 1/2-inch pieces. Cut raw bacon strips into thirds. Wrap one piece of bacon around each piece of asparagus. Slide six or seven pieces in each skewer. Leave a little space between pieces.

Put skewers on a cookie sheet. Cook for 10 minutes, turn over and cook for another 10 minutes. Then turn on broiler and broil for 2 minutes on each side. Watch closely to prevent burning. Serve immediately.

Barb's simple asparagus

1 pound fresh asparagus

4 or 5 drops lemon juice

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup fresh-grated Parmesan cheese

Soak asparagus in cold water for 15 to 20 minutes. Gently bend each stalk near the base; stalks should snap at natural breaking point.

Place asparagus in microwave-proof dish. Sprinkle with lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Cover and cook in microwave oven for 7 minutes.

Let stand for two minutes, then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

—  Courtesy of Barbara Tritle, who handles display and marketing for Blue Mountain Farm's stand at Hagerstown City Farmers Market

Chris' sugared asparagus

1 bundle asparagus, about 20 spears

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoons coarse salt

1/4 teaspoon coriander

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon lemon zest

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Snap off the bottom of asparagus. Roll stalks in oil and lay in cookie sheet.

Mix sugar, salt, coriander, nutmeg and lemon zest in a bowl. Sprinkle sugar-spice mixture over stalks.

Cook asparagus for 20 minutes. Then turn on broiler and broil for 2 minutes. Watch closely to prevent burning. Serve immediately.

Broiled asparagus

1 pound fresh asparagus

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper, or garlic salt

Snap stems off asparagus stalks at natural breaking point.

Place oil on cookie sheet and roll asparagus. Coat with olive oil. Sprinkle stalks with spices.

Put cookie sheet under broiler set at 375 degrees. Cook for a couple minutes, then roll and continue cooking, about 10 to 15 minutes total. A little browning and crispiness is OK.

Serve immediately.

— Courtesy of Lynn Horst of Martin's Farm Market, north of Hagerstown

Grilled asparagus

1 pound fresh asparagus

2 tablespoons olive oil

Fresh-ground pepper

Coarse-ground salt

Snap stems off asparagus stalks at natural breaking point.

Spread asparagus on cookie sheet. Coat with olive oil. Sprinkle stalks with salt and pepper.

Remove stalks from cookie sheet and put directly on grill over medium-hot coals. Cook for a couple minutes, then turn and cook on the other side. Serve immediately.

— Courtesy of Barbara Tritle, Blue Mountain Farm stall at Hagerstown City Farmers Market

Nutritional information

  • Raw asparagus is low in saturated fat, and very low in cholesterol and sodium.
  • It is also a good source of pantothenic acid, calcium, magnesium, zinc and selenium.
  • It is a very good source of dietary fiber and complete protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, foliate, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese.
  • One note: Asparagus has a high sugar content.
  • Read more

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