When I was a child, we had a home in Michigan and had access to an abundance of fresh asparagus. We picked bags of it out of the local farmer’s field and ate it almost every night of the week during the height of the season. One of my sisters’s intensely disliked asparagus and the rule at our house was you had to eat at least one bite of everything that was served (except dessert). Needless to say my sister spent quite a bit of time at the dinner table struggling with that one single asparagus spear. As an adult, she still doesn’t eat asparagus!
My experience was quite different. I love asparagus and eagerly looked forward to those first tender bright green spears. It served as a welcome sign that spring was almost here.
Although it’s available year-round, the freshest asparagus can be found from April through June. Asparagus has a delicious taste and it is also a good source of vitamin A, and is low in calories and sodium.
When choosing asparagus, look for spears that are very green with full, tightly closed tips. Avoid any that look limp or that have very open tips. In general, the thinner the asparagus the more tender it will be. There are approximately 14 to 18 stalks per bunch and this is enough to serve a family of 4 or 5. White asparagus has a more delicate flavor than its green counterpart. It is grown underneath the soil and harvested when the tip just breaks the ground. This lack of exposure to light keeps the spear pale in color.
Store this vegetable unwashed in the refrigerator in a closed plastic bag. It is best prepared the day of purchase, but will keep refrigerated for up to four days. Asparagus is grown in sandy soil so make sure to clean thoroughly to ensure that the tips are not gritty. Run the spears under cold running water just before cooking. Break the washed spears by hand where the tough woody end begins and they snap easily. Use a small knife or vegetable peeler to remove any tough outer peel at the stem ends if necessary. For cooking, leave the spears whole or cut into 1 to 1 1/2-inch pieces.
There are many different methods used for cooking asparagus, including steaming, microwaving, roasting, boiling, sautéing and grilling.
Steaming asparagus is a common preparation technique as it cooks the spears gently and brings out its natural flavor. Whole spears can be steamed upright in an asparagus steamer. Place the spears vertically, bud-end up. Add 1 ½ to 2 inches of water into the bottom of the steamer and bring it to a boil. Once the water is boiling, place the basket into the steamer pot. Cover the pot while steaming and turn the heat down to medium-low. The spears should be done in 2 to 6 minutes. Pull a spear from the center of the bunch to check for doneness.
Use a tall steamer basket or use a basket steamer to cook cut asparagus. Add enough water to a saucepan so that it is below bottom of the steamer basket. Bring the water to a full boil over high heat. Place asparagus pieces in steamer basket and place basket in saucepan over boiling water. Turn heat to medium, cover pan and cook asparagus pieces 2 to 8 minutes or until crisp tender. Remove steamer basket from pot and serve immediately while hot.
My favorite way to cook asparagus spears is in the microwave. This method is simple and completed in less than five minutes. Choose a baking dish with sides in which the spears will lay flat without overcrowding. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons water. Cover dish with microwave-proof plastic wrap leaving one corner open to vent. This also prevents the plastic wrap from shrink wrapping itself over the asparagus. Microwave on HIGH for 2 to 3 minutes or until tender.
Oven roasting asparagus is another great way to cook this versatile vegetable. Try Roasted Asparagus & Mushrooms to try this simple preparation method.
No matter what the cooking method, when the asparagus spears become bright green and crisp tender they are ready for serving. A simple seasoning of salt and pepper and a drizzle with melted butter or olive oil gives the spears extra flavor. A delicious vegetable ready to serve in minutes- what could be more delightful!
For more great asparagus recipe ideas, browse our Asparagus Recipe Collection.