Welcome Spring with With Asparagus

Although chilly winds still gust in March -- and April showers are weeks away yet -- it’s heartening to remember that brightly blooming flowers are just around the corner. So wake up your taste buds in anticipation of the wonder of spring with a fresh salad loaded with asparagus, apple, and Gruyere cheese.

The asparagus, cultivated for millennia (although it still grows wild on the Adriatic coast), provides a delicate crunch and is a good source of potassium and folic acid. The Romans and Greeks enjoyed this unique vegetable, which has also been immortalized in the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt. Surprisingly, thin young stalks of asparagus are often tougher than the larger, plumper spears. The eye-catching white variety is simply regular asparagus that has been shaded from sunlight.

During preparation, it’s best to snap the tough bottoms from the tender tops by hand, rather than cutting them off with a knife. Reason: the stalk will naturally snap at the point where it becomes too tough to be easily edible.

The salad’s unpeeled apple provides another layer of fresh texture and nutrition. A great source of fiber and pectin, apples have long been prized for their nutritional benefits. Apple remains were found in excavations in Jericho that dated back to 6500 BC. A tablet found in northern Mesopotamia recorded the sale of an apple orchard in 1500 BC.

The addition of Gruyere cheese adds yet another dimension to the salad. A hard yellow cheese made from cow’s milk, it is named after the town of Gruyeres in Switzerland. Sweet, but slightly salty, Gruyere’s flavor can vary widely with age -- creamy and nutty when young, becoming more earthy and complex with age. It takes roughly 200 gallons of milk to make 176 pounds of this cheese.

When the asparagus, apple, and cheese are served on a bed of greens, the result is a true taste of spring – fresh and nutritious. It’s easy to prepare and makes a great side dish for almost any meal.

Apple and Roasted Asparagus Salad - Makes 6 servings.

24 thin asparagus spears, peeled and trimmed

1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. honey

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 shallot, minced

10 ounces mixed baby greens

1 apple (a green apple is best), unpeeled and sliced thin

3 ounces Gruyere cheese, cut very thinly with a vegetable peeler

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp. olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Roast 30 minutes, turning once. Place on a plate and let cool for 5 to 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk remaining olive oil with the vinegar, honey, and shallot.

Place the greens in a large salad bowl. Add vinaigrette to the greens and toss. Place greens on 6 plates.

Top the greens evenly with apple and cheese and arrange asparagus on top.

Per serving: 230 calories, 18 g total fat (4 g saturated fat), 12 g carbohydrate, 7 g protein, 3 g dietary fiber, 63 mg sodium.

The Author:

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $86 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.

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