Fresh Asparagus, Vine-Ripe Strawberries and Sweet Baby Spinach
mean Spring has sprung!
After a long, cold and dreary winter, the first spring produce is welcomed with much enthusiasm. Asparagus, peas, radishes, rhubarb, baby greens and strawberries provide the canvas for lighter, fresher cooking techniques and flavors. These ingredients call for little fuss and preparation and are packed with flavor and nutrition.
Asparagus is one of the first tender vegetables to arrive in our Midwest gardens. The tips poking out of the ground give the gardener and cook a reason to rejoice. Although nothing beats the taste of just picked spears steamed within minutes of picking, locally grown bunches can be found in local markets throughout May. Choose fresh looking, firm spears with tight tips. The cut ends of the stalks should be moist, not dried out. Many think thin spears are more tender than plump ones, but any size can be sweet and tender as long as it is fresh. To store, stand asparagus bundles in a glass or jar with about an inch of water and refrigerate. Use within a few days for best flavor and nutritional value.
High in fiber, low in calories and loaded with vitamins & minerals including folic acid, vitamins A, B & C and calcium, asparagus is versatile and can be steamed, roasted, grilled or mixed with salads, stir-fries and pasta dishes.
Spinach is full of flavor and nutrition and is a kitchen favorite due to its versatility. Used raw, it provides a sweet crunch to salads while cooking develops a flavor and texture great for soups, pastas and side dishes. When purchasing, choose fresh looking, brightly colored leaves that are not wilted or yellow.
Baby spinach is best eaten raw because it can become a slippery mess when cooked. Remove stems from mature spinach prior to cooking and be sure to rinse well to remove all grit and dirt. Dry well using a salad spinner and store layered with paper towels in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator. Use within 2-3 days for best results.
Spinach is an excellent source of vitamins K, A, C and E as well as manganese, calcium and potassium. It provides iron and omega-3 fatty acids making it a good choice for vegetarians. In addition, it has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Although available year-round, strawberry season runs from late-spring to early summer. During this time, these sweet, red gems are at their best. Choose plump, firm, aromatic berries that are bright flame red to scarlet without white or green shoulders. Don’t wash until you are ready to use and handle as little as possible to prevent bruising. Store, refrigerated, in a single layer on paper towel lined plate or dish lightly covered with plastic wrap.
Strawberries not only taste great, they have many health benefits. They are high in vitamin C, fiber and folate and low in calories. Components in strawberries have been shown to slow the breakdown and absorption of carbs helping maintain normal blood glucose making them a great choice for diabetics.
Most strawberries are consumed in their raw form mostly as snacks and in sweet, dessert dishes, but they also pair well in more savory dishes where the saltiness brings out their natural sweetness. Balsamic vinegar is a unusual, but delicious, partner for the berries. Try crushing fresh berries with a splash of good quality balsamic and serving over vanilla ice cream or better yet, plain Greek yogurt.
What are some of your favorite ways to incorporate spring produce into your diet?