Asparagus is among the earliest Minnesota-grown spring vegetables you’ll find in markets and stores. Nothing says spring as elegantly as asparagus. This vegetable is related to onions and leeks, though you might never guess based on its appearance or flavor.Asparagus is considered a gourmet produce item due to the cost of growing and harvesting the perennial vegetable. It’s finicky — asparagus has to be harvested by hand and can only be harvested in its third year after planting. The gardener is eventually rewarded for her efforts, however, because a well-planned and maintained asparagus bed can produce asparagus for 20 to 30 years.

Selecting Asparagus

If you aren’t fortunate enough to have asparagus growing in your yard, you should still enjoy this spring treat. Look for locally-grown asparagus in early May through the end of June. Asparagus usually has green or violet-green tips, although white, pink, and purple varieties are also available. Select asparagus with compact tips and smooth, uniformly colored stems. Avoid dried stem ends when possible. Remember that asparagus does not get thicker with age. The diameter of the stems is determined before any of them poke their little buds out of the ground. Thus, thick stems can be just as tender as thin ones.

Storing Asparagus

Put any other meal plans on hold and cook asparagus the day you buy it. If you can’t cook it the same day, trim the cut ends and then place the spears in a tall glass with about an inch of cool water. Cover the top with a plastic bag, refrigerate, and use within two to three days.

Cooking Options

Try one or all of these easy ways to get asparagus on the table within 20 minutes.

Steam it: Fill a saucepan with water until it’s just below the bottom of your steamer basket. Bring water to a boil and place rinsed asparagus in the steamer basket. Cover and steam five to 10 minutes until tender and crisp. Time will vary depending on the thickness of your asparagus spears. Serve with a dash of salt and bit of melted butter or a drizzle of olive oil, if desired.

Sauté it: Cut washed asparagus into approximately two-inch pieces. Heat skillet over medium high heat. Add a tablespoon of canola oil and swirl it around in the pan. Toss in asparagus pieces and cook, stirring occasionally for a minute or two. Cover and reduce heat to medium low. Cook until asparagus is tender crisp, about five minutes or so depending on thickness of the spears.

Roast it: Place washed asparagus spears in a shallow baking pan. Drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil over them. Mix lightly to coat each spear. Roast in a 400-degree oven for about 15 minutes or until tender crisp.

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Turn It into a Frittata

Approach this recipe with a can-do attitude. It’s relatively simple, quick, and makes for a tasty and satisfying meal. For years I’d put off trying to make a frittata because I was worried about it sticking, but I’ve found (after four trials) that a heated cast iron skillet with ample butter and oil on the bottom ensures that you can remove your finished frittata with ease. Just place your serving plate over the cooked frittata in the skillet and carefully flip it over while holding the plate against it.

½ bunch of asparagus (2 to 2½ cups chopped)

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ tablespoon butter

6 large eggs, beaten

1 tablespoon cornstarch

⅓ cup small curd cottage cheese

1 clove garlic, minced

½ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Asparagus-frittata-and-wedges

Cut asparagus into approximately one-and-a-half-inch pieces. In a 10½-inch cast iron skillet, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add asparagus and saute for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat eggs with cornstarch in a medium bowl. Add minced garlic, cottage cheese, salt, and pepper to the beaten eggs. Mix well and pour over the asparagus in the skillet. Cover and cook over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Cast iron holds heat extremely well, so you can just turn off the burner and let it coast for that length of time. Transfer the frittata to the oven and continue cooking until the eggs are set and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 8 to 12 minutes. Turn onto a serving plate to prevent the frittata from cooking further and becoming too dry. Cut into wedges and serve with Sriracha or your favorite salsa.

By Anita Dualeh