Asparagus 101

For about 2500 years people have been cultivating and debating the medicinal effects of Asparagus. All debates aside, this is definitely a Super Food. It is one of the most nutritionally balanced vegetables on the planet. It has a wealth of nutrients and benefits like fiber, very low sodium and low calories. An asparagus spear has less than four calories, no fat or cholesterol less than a milligram of sodium, lots of potassium and folic acid, vitamins A, C, B6, Folacin and Thiamin. It also contains Glutathione (GSH) which is one of the best antioxidants and anti-carcinogens found in the body.

Asparagus can be steamed, sauteed, roasted or eaten raw. You can even cook it in the microwave. You can store it in the refrigerator for two or three days and even freeze it (after blanching) for up to eight months. Canned, it can be kept on the shelf for up to a year.

Cultivation can be a bit tricky as the plants take about three years to mature in sandy, sweet (alkaline) soil. Then you can harvest them for an average of about fifteen years. Most asparagus is grown in northern climes but some types are available for the South as well, though sandy, sweet soil can be hard to come by in the South.

Asparagus is actually a member of the lily family which includes onions, leeks and garlic. White asparagus is merely spears that have been grown in the dark so they don’t for chlorophyll. Purple asparagus is actually a different plant bred for its color but it turns green when cooked. Here’s a hint: the fiber in asparagus is mainly around the outside so the larger stalks are actually more tender than the smaller ones.

California Asparagus and Mushroom Filled Crepes
1 pound fresh California asparagus, ends trimmed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
8 ounces button mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup Gruyere cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 savory crepes (purchased or use the recipe at the bottom)
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese, for topping

Savory Crepes

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Additional unsalted butter for frying

Crepes: In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt; whisk to combine. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the eggs; whisk just the eggs until thoroughly mixed. Slowly and steadily whisk in a little more than half of the milk, while incorporating more and more of the flour from the edges into the batter. (If you add all the liquid at once, the batter will be hard to mix and lumpy.) Once you have incorporated all of the flour, whisk in the melted butter and enough of the remaining milk to make a batter the consistency of heavy cream. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes or cover and refrigerate overnight. If you refrigerated the batter, bring to room temperature before proceeding – you may need to add a bit more milk to the batter if it has thickened too much overnight.

Heat a traditional, seasoned, steel crepe pan or 8-inch non-stick sauté pan over medium high heat. Using a pastry brush or paper towel, brush or wipe the pan with a thin film of the melted butter. Add a scant ¼ cup of batter and immediately rotate the pan, lifting it off the heat, so that the batter swirls and forms a thin even layer over the surface of the pan. Place the pan back on the burner and cook until it just begins to brown underneath and the top surface looks set, about 1 minute. Using the edge of a spatula, loosen the edge of the crepe from the pan and flip (your fingers work best at this point!) Cook just until browned lightly,
about 1 minute. Transfer the crepe to a plate. Repeat with the remaining batter — stacking the crepes directly on top of one another when cooked. Crepes will keep tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for 3 days, or frozen for 1 month. Let frozen crepes come to room temperature before separating from the stack.

Filling: Bring a large sauté pan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the asparagus and cook until tender crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer the asparagus to a colander, refresh under cold running water to stop the cooking, and drain well. Set aside.

In a medium sauté pan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until the moisture they release has evaporated and the mushrooms are golden brown. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until light golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add the stock; bring to a boil, stirring briskly, and cook until thickened,
about 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Add the cream and ¼ cup Gruyere cheese, whisk until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper; set aside.

To assemble crepes: Place 2 tablespoons of the cheese sauce down the center of a crepe and top with a spoonful of the cooked mushrooms. Arrange 3 asparagus spears down the center of the crepe so that the tips extend just beyond the edge of the crepe. Roll up and place, seam side down, in the prepared baking dish. Repeat with the remaining crepes, sauce and filling. The crepes should fit snuggly in the dish. Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup grated Gruyere over the tops of the rolled crepes.
Bake, uncovered, until the crepes are warmed through and the cheese has melted, about 12-15 minutes. If you prefer a browner top, place under a heated broiler just until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Additional Tips

Nutrients per serving: calories 493; calories from fat 303; fat 34 gms; saturated fat 19 gms; cholesterol 182 mg; sodium 527 mg; carbohydrate 24 gms; dietary fiber 3 gms; protein 23 gms

Recipe and photo courtesy of the © California Asparagus Commission

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