The world of asparagus

They’re considered to be one of the delicacies of the vegetable world, with a price tag to match, and have a distinct, intense savoury flavour. Asparagus is low in calories and boasts tons of nutritional ingredients like folic acid, an essential vitamin for pregnant and nursing women. A source of fibre, vitamins A and C and many minerals, asparagus also provides antioxidants that may help our body prevent the risk of many diseases like some cancers and cardiovascular diseases.

Choose carefully when buying fresh asparagus. Look for bright green stalks with tightly closed, compact tips. Stalks should be straight, firm and about 6 to 11 inches in length. Try to avoid asparagus with white butts because the white portion is unusable. Prepare fresh asparagus by first breaking off the butt end of each spear where it snaps easily. Save the woody bases for soup stock if desired. Next, wash the stalks thoroughly and carefully to remove any sand from under scales.

Cook asparagus by steaming, boiling, microwaving, oven-roasting, or stir frying.

  • To Steam: Lay asparagus in steamer basket and place over boiling water in saucepan. Cover and steam 5 to 7 minutes until asparagus is tender-crisp.
  • To Microwave: Place 1 lb. washed asparagus spears in microwave-safe dish. Add 2 tbsp. water. Cover. Cook at HIGH for 4 to 6 minutes, rearranging spears once so bottom spears are moved to top until tender crisp. Keep covered until ready to serve.
  • To Boil: Place asparagus, uncovered, in a skillet or saucepan and cover with boiling water. Boil for 5 to 7 minutes.
  • To Oven-roast: Arrange 1 or 2 lbs. of asparagus spears in a single layer in a large shallow baking dish. Drizzle with 1 to 2 tbsp. vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake, uncovered, at 500 deg. F. (260 C.) for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender but still slightly firm.
  • To Stir-fry: Cut asparagus into 1 inch pieces and cook in skillet or wok, using equal amounts of butter or oil, for 5 to 7 minutes.

Seared chicken & asparagus with mango salsa (Good Food magazine)

Ingredients

For the mango salsa

  • 4 medium, firm but ripe mangoes
  • juices of 2 limes, zest of 1
  • 2 small red onions, finely chopped
  • 4 red chillies, seeded and finely chopped
  • 40g combined weight fresh flatleaf parsley and coriander, chopped
  • 250ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp caster sugar, optional

For the asparagus

  • 60 asparagus spears
  • 125ml olive oil

For the chicken

  • 5 tbsp light olive oil
  • 20 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, about 140g/5oz each (preferably freerange)

Preparation

  1. The day before: make the mango salsa, peel the mangoes and cut the flesh into tiny dice. Put into a bowl with the lime juice and zest, the red onions, chillies, parsley, coriander and olive oil. Taste, and mix in a teaspoon of sugar if you feel it needs it. Put in the fridge.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6/fan 180C. Put 2 baking trays in the oven to preheat. Hold each asparagus tip about a third of the way down from the tip between your thumb and forefinger, and your other hand at the bottom. Start to bend it gently and it will snap just above the tough bit which you can throw away. Now toss the asparagus in the olive oil and season well with salt and pepper.
  3. Put in a single layer on the pre-heated baking trays and roast for 12-14 minutes, giving them a good shake halfway through. When they are cooked, remove from the baking trays to cool or else they will keep cooking. Keep the oven on.
  4. For the chicken, heat a griddle pan over a high heat till hot. Brush the chicken with olive oil and generously season with salt and pepper. Cook the chicken breasts, 4 at a time in the pan (depending how many will fit) for 2-3 minutes each side – they should be well marked with the griddle lines. Remove from the griddle and lay in a single layer on foil lined baking sheets. Roast for 12-15 minutes until cooked. Take out of the oven, cool, then cover and put in the fridge.
  5. On the day: take the mango salsa from the fridge and leave at room temperature to allow the flavours to combine.
  6. When you are ready to serve, arrange on two platters, allowing three spears of asparagus topped with a chicken breast per person. Spoon over the mango salsa, reserving some to put in bowls on the side, and drizzle over any oil from the salsa.

Bon appetit!