NEWS for North Dakotans
Agriculture Communication, North Dakota State University
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo, ND 58105-5665
April 6, 2000
My nose tells me when spring has officially arrived. It's a different day every year, but it's always the day I catch my first whiff of the moldy aroma that tells me the earth is awakening from its season of slumber.
After that, my taste buds take over and begin dictating, in a sloppy, salivating sort of way, what it is that I should be eating to celebrate the cessation of cold. Usually, my springtime ritual of food-oriented festivities involves laying fire in the outdoor icon of modernity: the barbecue grill.
In recent years, I've developed a taste for grilled foods that many, no doubt, would consider oddities--grilled fruit and vegetables. The fruit? Mushrooms, which are actually the fruiting bodies of fungi. On occasion I'll order a box of portobello mushrooms, each of which is about the size of a saucer. I marinate these big boys in a rosemary-scented vinaigrette and then grill the `shrooms using heat from chunks of slightly smoldering apple wood. The end result is difficult to distinguish from meat, texturewise.
Leftover portobellos prepared that way impart a wonderful smoky flavor to egg dishes. A particular favorite of mine is a portobello-stuffed omelet topped with melted Monterey Jack cheese and homemade guacamole.
My vegetable-grilling escapades are a bit more panoramic and stretch the gamut from asparagus to zucchini (which is technically a fruit, but a fruit beginning with the letter "z" so close enough). One of my favorites is grilled purple onions, which I cut into slices about 2 inches thick and brush with olive oil. Just before the onions reach that state of caramelized perfection, I sprinkle on the seasoning: fresh chopped sage, salt and ground black pepper.
Whenever I'm in a quandary about what type of vegetable to throw on the grill, I usually go back to the beginning of my list, especially if I'm lucky enough to have found some wild asparagus (I dug up our garden asparagus plants because of quack grass problems). The recipe that follows should have asparagus lovers licking their lips in anticipation.
Yield: 6 servings
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed.
1/4 cup olive oil
1½ pounds fresh asparagus
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place garlic pieces in the olive oil to infuse it with garlic essence. Wash asparagus, trim woody base from each spear and peel off scales. If asparagus is pencil sized, no peeling is necessary. Prepare gas grill or charcoal barbecue so that the temperature reaches a medium-high heat (about 375 F). Discard garlic pieces, drizzle olive oil over asparagus and place asparagus on the grill. Grill asparagus, turning frequently, until it is tender and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to platter, drizzle with lemon juice, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, perhaps with a New York strip steak and au gratin potatoes.
What's Your Take on This, Julie?
A serving of Outdoor Asparagus (one-sixth of the recipe) contains about 110 calories and 9 grams of fat from the olive oil. About 75 percent of the fat is in the monounsaturated form, which has been shown to be more heart healthy than other types of fat. In fact in the Mediterranean Food Guide Pyramid, there's a recommendation for olive oil in the daily diet.
Asparagus comes from the Greek word meaning "shoot" or "stalk." Early Romans not only cultivated it, they also were food processors, dehydrating the stalks for quick meals later. American pioneers called it "sparrow grass" and brought along the roots on their journeys west. Today asparagus is a favorite of chefs, and though sometimes viewed as a luxury item, it is available canned and frozen, as well as fresh. A vegetable in the lily family, asparagus is even honored with a national festival.
If you're lucky, you may find a patch of asparagus growing in the wild, waiting to be plucked before it goes to seed and produces a lacey bush. While asparagus is fairly easy to identify, it's a good idea to exercise caution before adding other wild plants to your menu. As a child, finding tender young asparagus stalks peeking out among tall weeds in a ditch made me feel as if I was on a treasure hunt. And since I helped harvest and clean the asparagus, I also ate it at mealtime.
When buying fresh asparagus, look for crisp asparagus with only an inch or two of woody base and well-formed closed tips. Store fresh asparagus in the refrigerator, keeping the stems moist by wrapping in damp paper towels or by placing in water. Since asparagus is quite perishable, use it soon after purchase. And be careful not to overcook asparagus because it can become dark, limp and lacking in flavor.
It can be easy to get in a rut when it comes to the food we eat. If apples, oranges, peas and corn are the only types of produce adorning your plate, it might be time to try something a little unusual--asparagus, which is a nutritional bargain at 20 calories per half-cup serving. It also contains abundant vitamin A (as carotenoids), vitamin C and fiber.
The reason you need to paint your plate with a variety of produce is to reap all the health benefits these foods offer. Regardless of the type of produce you choose to eat, aim for five servings--that's three servings of vegetables and two fruits--every day. A half-cup of cut-up fruit or vegetables counts as a serving, as does three-fourths cup of 100-percent fruit or vegetable juice, or a medium-sized piece of fruit.
Turn up the heat on food safety during grilling season, too. Whenever cooking outdoors, avoid cross contamination: Never place cooked food or ready-to-eat food on a plate that held raw meat, and never serve meat with the same utensils that contacted it when raw. And finally, bring your food thermometer outside because color isn't a good indicator of doneness--cooking meat to a safe temperature is your best option.
Sources: Dean Hulse (701) 231-6136
Julie Garden-Robinson (701) 231-7187
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