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Asparagus: An early spring treat

GOSHEN, IN -- There are many local foods that are extra special as they are part of the first spring foods. There is no set order, but I think dandelion greens are first, then rhubarb followed by asparagus. We have already enjoyed rhubarb pies, crisp and sauce with friends. Remember that rhubarb is one of those foods that is easy to freeze.

The spring food I want to share with you this week is asparagus. From my experience many of you really enjoy it, don't like it all or have never tried it. The asparagus plant is a member of the lily family. Its edible part is the long, slender shoot, which can range from pencil thin to about half inch think. Most harvested asparagus is green. We are fortunate to have asparagus locally grown.

When selecting asparagus choose bright green or white spears that are brittle, not limp, have tightly closed tips, and stalks that are at least two-thirds green. For best results plan to store the spears, with stem ends in a damp paper towel, in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a week or so.

When you are ready to prepare the spears I like to rinse them in cold water and sometimes I stand the spears in water about halfway up the spears. I do this as asparagus is often grown in sandy soil and this helps the sand to float out. Next I break the asparagus spears by hand where they snap easily. If the spears have a tough outer area you can use a paring knife or vegetable peeler to remove the tough outer peel at stem end. When handling, be careful as the tips are tender and do not require peeling.

Asparagus can be left whole or cut on the diagonal or straight into 1 to 2 inch pieces. When you tough ends that you have trimmed, you can steam them in the microwave and use them to make soup. I usually trim these smaller and then just cook them longer.

There are many ways to use asparagus in food preparation. The first that comes to mind is raw with vegetable dip. When it comes to cooking I personal like to gently steam the stems in the microwave. Asparagus can be steamed or boiled and is served warm, at room temperature or chilled as a salad, often with mayonnaise, vinaigrette, or other salad dressing. When asparagus is served hot it is generally dressed with butter, oil, or Hollandaise Sauce and offered as a first course or side dish. Asparagus tips are a popular garnish for salads, soups, rice, and pasta dishes; for omelets and quiche fillings; and for Asian stir-fry. Enjoy this tasty recipe!

Quick Skillet Asparagus

4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 lb. medium asparagus spears, trimmed

1/2 tsp. grated lemon rind

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1/4 tsp. salt

Heat a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add asparagus to pan; cook 3 minutes or until asparagus is crisp-tender and browned, stirring frequently. Transfer to a serving platter. Add rind, juice and salt, tossing to coat.