Asparagus works as side, meal

Food experts with the California Asparagus Commission have come up with a light dish that can be served for supper or as a side.

Fresh asparagus is versatile, brightens up any meal, and is a delicious part of a healthy diet, they said.

The moist, tender spears are packed with nutrients.

And, this recipe is easy to prepare ahead for a family meal, solo supper, or a crowd.

Though asparagus is now in the market much of the year, every cook knows that spring is still asparagus’s best true time, when its vigorous spears have only just pushed through the earth with their winter-defying greenness.

At the market, select spears of like diameter so that they cook evenly. Tips should be compactly closed.

As part of a component dinner with several other vegetables or as a side dish, allow six to eight medium or plump spears, or 10 to 15 skinny ones, per serving. This is about 1/3 to 1/2 pound untrimmed asparagus per person.

Store-wrapped in plastic, they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days. Once cooked, asparagus can be stored for about three days.

One serving of asparagus is low in calories, and very low in sodium. Asparagus is an excellent source of folic acid, and a fairly significant source of vitamin C, thiamine and vitamin B6.

Asparagus contains no fat or cholesterol of any significance, and is an important source of potassium and many micronutrients.

Peak supplies can be found in local markets in March, April and May.

Baked Asparagus with Goat Cheese and Bread Crumbs

11/2 pounds jumbo or extra-large California Asparagus, trimmed

21/2 tablespoons butter, melted, divided

2 ounces fresh white goat cheese, crumbled into bits (about 1/2 cup)

1/2 cup fresh, white breadcrumbs

Coat asparagus spears with 11/2 tablespoons melted butter, then salt lightly. Arrange in an oven-to-table, shallow baking dish large enough to hold the asparagus in one layer. Evenly distribute cheese bits over asparagus, then sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Drizzle remaining 1 tablespoon melted butter over breadcrumbs. Bake at 400 degrees until asparagus is tender-crisp and the breadcrumbs lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

Makes 6 servings.

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