You definitely know it is spring because of the crisp, round spears of asparagus that are in the produce aisles. When selecting or harvesting asparagus the tips should be pointed and tightly closed. To ensure cooking times for all spears are similar, select asparagus with the same thickness.

Asparagus, counted in the vegetable group for MyPlate, is an excellent source of vitamins A and C, which are antioxidants that may reduce your risk of heart disease and some cancers. Eye health is maintained through the consumption of vitamin A. Vitamin C protects skin from bruising, helps heal cuts and helps the body absorb iron. Other nutrients that asparagus provides include: potassium, vitamin K and fiber. Potassium helps maintain healthy blood pressure. Vitamin K helps build and maintain strong bones. Fiber helps control cholesterol and keeps you regular. Incorporating asparagus into your diet is a great way to get a variety of nutrients to help you stay healthy and satisfied. Check out MyPlate for more information on your daily needs for vegetables.

Whether grown at home, purchased at a farmers market or grocery store, you must wash your asparagus under cool running water. The use of soap, detergent or commercial produce wash is not recommended. After washing, dry produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present on the surface.

To trim asparagus: remove 1 spear from bunch and bend it at the thicker end until it snaps. With the broken asparagus spear as a guide, trim the tough ends from the remaining bunch with a chef’s knife.

Whether as an appetizer, side or your entire meal, asparagus can be prepared using several different cooking methods.

Steamed: Place asparagus in a steamer basket set over boiling water. Steam, covered, until easily pierced with a sharp knife, 2 to 6 minutes. Toss with butter, salt, and a pinch of pepper.

Oven Roasted: Place a single layer of clean asparagus on a baking pan. Drizzle olive oil over the spears and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Roast in a 450°F oven for 5-10 minutes. Enjoy!

Grilled: Marinade 1 lb fresh asparagus with 2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper and 1 tsp lemon juice. Let stand 20 minutes. Drain asparagus. Grill asparagus over medium-high heat until tender.

Pan Fry: Heat butter in 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Place asparagus spears in even layer in pan, cover, and cook until bright green, but crisp. Uncover, increase heat to medium-high and cook until tender and well browned. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with lemon juice.

Microwaved: Place asparagus into a microwave-safe covered dish. Add 1/4 cup water. Cook asparagus on the highest power 4 to 8 minutes, rotating halfway through. Drain and sprinkle with lemon juice.

Parboil: Blanch by putting spears or pieces in boiling water, reduce heat and cook uncovered for 2-5 minutes. To keep asparagus green and crisp, run it under cold water or dip in bowl of ice. Drain.

Regardless how you prepare your asparagus, putting more vegetables on your plate isn’t just a healthy choice, it’s a way to add fresh flavors to your meals.

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