As a delicious harbinger of spring, asparagus is one of the most celebrated of all vegetables. There is no need to get bored with asparagus because there are so many tasty ways to prepare it. Grilled or roasted, its addictive. It is also delicious simply boiled, microwaved or steamed, especially when dressed with one of our healthful toppings. The following directions are based on startingwith a 1- to 1 1/4-pound bunch of asparagus. This yieldsabout 3 (3- to 4-ounce) servings (9 medium spears perserving). One serving of plain asparagus has 15 caloriesand 2 grams fiber; grilled or roasted asparagus as preparedhere has 45 calories, 3 grams total fat, 0 milligramssaturated fat, 100 milligrams sodium, and 2 grams fiber.
To prepare, wash asparagus spears by holding them, tip ends down, under cold running water. Pat dry.Snap the tough end of spears off at the place where they break easily. (You can use the ends to flavor avegetable broth.)
TO BOIL: Bring several inches lightly salted water to a boil in a large skillet or wide pot. Add trimmed asparagus spears;cook until crisp-tender, 3 to 6 minutes. Drain. If using in a salad, refresh under cold running water.
TO STEAM: If trimmed asparagus spears are too long to fit in your steamer, cut them into 1 1/2-2 inch lengths. Place insteamer basket over boiling water. Cover and steam until crisp-tender, 3 to 6 minutes. If using in a salad, refresh under coldrunning water.
TO MICROWAVE: Arrange trimmed asparagus spears (1 lb before trimming) in a spoke pattern, with tips toward thecenter, in round microwaveable baking dish. Add 1/4 cup water. Cover with lid or vented plastic wrap and microwave at highpower until crisp-tender, 4 to 7 minutes. If your microwave does not have a turntable, stop and rotate dish, halfway throughcooking time. Drain. If using in a salad, refresh under cold running water.
TO GRILL: Place a fine-meshed grill rack or grill basket on grill grate. Heat grill. Toss trimmed asparagus with 2 tsp oliveor canola oil, 1/8 tsp salt, and pepper to taste. Lightly oil grill rack by rubbing it with a piece of oil soaked paper towel (usetongs to hold paper towel). Place asparagus on grill rack; cook over medium-high heat, turning from time, until tenderand browned in places, 4 to 6 minutes. (Tip: If you dont have a fine-meshed grill rack, just carefully place asparagus spearsperpendicular to grill grates.)
TO ROAST: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place asparagus on a large baking sheet with sides. Toss with 2 teaspoons olive orcanola oil, 1/8 tsp salt, and pepper to taste. Spread into a single layer. Bake, turning once or twice, until tender and brownedin places, 10 to 15 minutes.
ASPARAGUS TOPPINGSSHALLOT VINAIGRETTE WITH TOASTED NUTS: Whisk 2Tbsp olive or canola oil, 1 Tbsp vinegar (white or red wine,balsamic or sherry), 1 Tbsp finely chopped shallots, 1/2 tspDijon mustard, 1/8 tsp salt and pepper to taste in mediumbowl. Toast 1 Tbsp sliced almonds, chopped walnuts or pecansin microwave-safe bowl in microwave at high power 2to 3 minutes. Spoon vinaigrette over hot or chilled (boiled,steamed or microwaved) asparagus and sprinkle withtoasted nuts. Yield: 3 servings (1 Tbsp dressing and 1 tspnuts per serving); 100 calories, 10 grams total fat, 1.5 gramssaturated fat, and 115 milligrams sodium per serving.
MOCK LIGHT HOLLANDAISE SAUCE WITH LEMON ANDCHIVES: Place 3 Tbsp reduced-fat mayonnaise in small saucepan. Gradually whisk in 3 Tbsp reduced-sodium chicken orvegetable broth. Set saucepan over medium-low heat; cook, whisking constantly, until heated through but not bubbling,about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in 2 Tbsp chopped fresh chives, 3/4 tsp grated lemon zest, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, 11/2 tsp Dijon mustard, and pepper to taste. Spoon over hot (boiled, steamed or microwaved) asparagus. Yield: 3 servings (2Tbsp sauce per serving); 30 calories, 2 grams total fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat, and 220 milligrams sodium per serving.