The first tender bright green spears of asparagus serve as a welcome sign of spring.
Although it's available year-round, the freshest asparagus can be found from April through June. Asparagus has a delicious taste, is 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 pound 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 which results in a pale color.
Asparagus can be stored 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 one washed spear by hand where the tough woody end begins and it snaps easily. Use this spear as your guide to cut the ends off the rest of the bunch. 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. Some recipes call for shaved asparagus which you can accomplish with a vegetable peeler.
There are many different methods used for cooking asparagus, including steaming, roasting, boiling, sautéing and grilling.
Steaming asparagus is a common preparation technique as it cooks the spears gently and brings out its natural flavor. Topped with hollandaise sauce it's irresistible.
Roasting and sautéing in a little butter with a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper is a simple but delicious way to enjoy asparagus.
Grilling asparagus is another great way to cook this versatile vegetable. If you have a grill basket now is the time to use it so the spears don't fall through the grates otherwise a foil packet works just as well.
No matter what the cooking method, when the asparagus spears become bright green and crisp tender they are ready for serving. Besides being delicious on it's own, asparagus is a great addition to salads, risotto, soups, and stir frys.
For more great asparagus recipe ideas, browse our Asparagus Recipe Collection.