Nutrition Corner: Celebrate spring with asparagus

Happy Easter for those who celebrate the Easter holiday!

Spring has sprung and one of the first signs of spring is seeing asparagus standing upright, ready for purchase in the produce aisle.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to add asparagus to your shopping list. I was introduced to asparagus at an older age. While growing up, this vegetable wasn’t on my mom’s shopping list and was not on our dinner table. Luckily, it was grown by my mother-in-law and was on my husband’s dinner table.

Asparagus is a bit tricky to get started in the garden as it takes two to three years to begin producing edible stalks. But it’s not hard to find on sale in the produce aisles now.

Why choose asparagus? First, it’s important to eat a variety of vegetables. As the growing seasons change, change your vegetables.

Eating a variety of vegetables means that our bodies are getting a variety of nutrients. According to the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board, a 5.3 ounce serving (approximately 5 spears) has only 20 calories, 0 fat or cholesterol, 5 milligrams of sodium, 400 milligrams of potassium, 3 grams of fiber, 60 percent of the USDA of folic acid and are excellent sources of thiamin and vitamin B6.

To prepare asparagus, it’s important to thoroughly rinse in cool running water as they are grown in sandy soil. Trim ends slightly and if tough toward the base, either snap off or peel the end of the stalk with a vegetable peeler.

The easiest way to prepare them is to cook for 5-8 minutes in boiling water. Or, cut into ½-inch pieces and stir fry with olive oil and fresh chopped garlic, leaving the tips whole.

If you are not planning to use asparagus right away, refrigerate and use within 2 or 3 days for best quality. Wrap in a moist paper towel around the stem ends or stand upright in 2 inches of cold water like found at the store.

If you are enjoying ham this Easter holiday, here is a recipe which uses left over ham and asparagus. This is a slight change from the traditional all basil pesto.

Asparagus Pesto with Pasta and Ham

2 cups ham, cubed

12 ounces asparagus

3/4 cup basil leaves*

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1/3 cup walnut pieces

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons water

1 tablespoons garlic, minced (6 cloves)

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

8 ounces rotini (about 4 cups)

Snap off and discard woody portions of asparagus. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Cook asparagus in a small amount of boiling water about 5 minutes or until tender. Drain and cool.

For pesto, in a food processor or blender, combine asparagus, basil, cheese, walnuts, olive oil, water, garlic and pepper. Cover and process or blend until nearly smooth, scraping sides occasionally. Divide pesto into thirds. Transfer 2 portions to freezer containers. Freeze for up to 3 months. Set aside remaining portion.

Prepare gnocchi or rotini according to package directions.

Meanwhile, coat a skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Cook ham cubes in skillet until heated through. Stir remaining portion of the pesto into ham cubes; heat through. Drain rotini and toss with pesto-ham mixture. Serves 4.

*If you do not have enough fresh basil leaves, add some fresh spinach leaves.

Recipe adapted from