Ask Chef Hosch and Ann

Asparagus … Really, how good can it be?

Asparagus is a spring vegetable, flowering perennial plant with many health benefits. This plant is native to Africa, Asia and Europe. Over time, it has been adapted to and become naturalized in North America, South America, Australia and New Zealand. A species called wild asparagus played an important role in the development of Ayurvedic medicine in India over 5000 years ago. Today, China is the greatest commercial producer of asparagus in the world. Even though California remains the largest asparagus producing state within the United States, the planted acreage actually has decreased here while the consumption has increased as we get most of our crops imported from Mexico and Peru. This plant has such a unique growth cycle that it has been difficult to meet the demands of the consumers.

There are so many health benefits of asparagus that I wouldn’t have room in this article for them all. The highest levels of vitamins and minerals that are in a serving (1 cup) of asparagus are vitamin K (101 percent), folate (67 percent), copper (33 percent), vitamin B1 (24 percent), and selenium (20 percent). The other values range from 19 percent down to 4 percent which are still highly beneficial in just a single serving size and it would be hard to find these nutrients at such levels in most other vegetables. Even the asparagusic acid, which is what makes your urine smell funny after eating this vegetable, is a great source of nutrition and helps your body do amazing things. Asparagus also is a wonderful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant rich food as it provides a truly unique combination of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients.

In order to help preserve all of these nutrients before consuming your veggies, you must learn to store them properly. This particular vegetable will be at its best if you wrap the bottoms in a wet cloth or paper towel and refrigerate them to keep them fresh, and they should be eaten within three days after they are purchased from the market or store. When you are ready to prepare your asparagus you will want to peel the ends if they look white-ish or are woody. The ends also can be cut off by about 1-2 inches depending on the thickness of the stalks. The healthiest and quickest ways to prepare asparagus are quick sauteing or grilling. If you tend to cook your vegetables in water and then pouring the water down the drain you also are pouring all of the healthy nutrients away with the water. If you prefer boiled or blanched vegetables try using vegetable, chicken, or beef stock instead of water and then you can utilize this stock elsewhere and save the healthiest part. Asparagus also is best with minimal cooking time so just a quick saute until they turn bright green and they are done. Asparagus is very versatile as well and can be served hot or cold. A few quick serving ideas for asparagus are adding it cold to your favorite salad, toss it with freshly cooked pasta with your favorite sauce or simply olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs, chop it smaller and add it to your omelet or eggs in the morning. This veggie is a great choice for summer salads or an easy addition to any meal. Our favorite way to serve asparagus is grilled with a small amount of olive oil, an aged balsamic drizzle and a little crumbled feta cheese. Give asparagus another try and enjoy all of the healthy benefits that it provides.

Chef Hosch and Ann are a husband and wife team devoted to healthy and gourmet cooking and catering. Chef Hosch is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, New York, and brings more than 25 years of experience and passion to his culinary arts. Ann is an occupational therapist and has worked as a cook and baker in the past. Chef Hosch and Ann’s restaurant is located at 414 W. Fourth St. Chef Hosch and Ann specialize in creating food for all tastes and diets. Their column is published on the third Sunday of each month in the Lifestyle section. Submit cooking questions for Chef Hosch and Ann to fine food@chefhos­ch­.com and “like” them on Facebook to ask questions and get tips and recipes.

Hunter is Chef Hosch and Ann’s sous chef. She recieved a degree in culinary arts from Pennsylvania Culinary Institute in 2002. After working in the field for several years, she went back to school at The Culinary Institute of America, graduating in 2005 with a degree in baking and pastry arts. She has worked in several different kitchens on both sides of culinary and baking.