- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Unlike some things whose worth seems to be measured by thinness, asparagus isn’t held to any such standards. Thin as a strand of spaghetti or as pudgy as a piece of chalk, asparagus is still delicious.

Now that the spring asparagus harvest is coming to market, you’ll see spears of varying girth in your supermarket. Thin asparagus is in fashion in some trendy restaurants because chefs have fun arranging the delicate spears. Order the vegetable, and you’ll be offered a work of art made from emaciated asparagus.

Thick asparagus has its own supporters. Steak-house asparagus is just as thick as the meat. The nutrition community also endorses heftier asparagus.

Spears that are larger than half an inch in diameter have more vitamins and more soluble fiber, according to a vegetable expert at Penn State University in University Park.

More important than the shape, however, is the freshness. Look for asparagus that has firm, tight, dry tips. Avoid spears with slimy tips, a sign that the vegetable is old. Stay away from asparagus with shriveled stalks. As a last check, sniff the asparagus. If it smells fermented or sour, don’t buy it.

When calculating how much asparagus to buy for two, allow for waste.

The bottom third of each stalk is tough and woody and should be snapped off. Figure about 12 ounces for an average serving for two; vegetable lovers will easily eat their way through a pound.

Tempting though it is to create exotic recipes to celebrate this spring harbinger, simple is best.

Here are two recipes that prove through thick or thin that asparagus is a marvelous vegetable.

Roasted asparagus with Gorgonzola vinaigrette

12 ounces fresh thin-stalk asparagus, tough ends snapped off

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Salt

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Place asparagus in shallow roasting pan. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season lightly with salt to taste. Roast in preheated 400-degree oven for 10 minutes, or until fork-tender.

Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Stir together remaining 2 tablespoons oil, vinegar, blue cheese and pepper in a cup. Pour over asparagus.

Makes 2 servings.

Roasted asparagus with bacon

12 ounces thick-stalk asparagus, tough ends snapped off

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 bacon strips

Place asparagus in a single layer in a shallow roasting pan. Sprinkle asparagus with pepper and arrange bacon strips across the stalks.

Roast asparagus in a preheated 425-degree oven for 15 minutes, or until bacon is crisp and asparagus is tender.

Makes 2 servings.

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