Spring is a new beginning. Spring begins at the shop with an “A” for asparagus, one of the most versatile types of vegetables. Asparagus can be raw, steamed, boiled, sautéed, roasted, fried, deep-fried, mashed for soup or a dip, and baked in puddings, tarts, and casseroles.
CHOOSE Start with color. Green is the most common, purple the least common, and while white is valued in Europe, it is the most fibrous. You’ll also find a variety of strengths: thin, pencil-thin spears are best raw, whole for raw vegetables, or cut into salads. Medium stems (the most common) are sold by the group, typically around a pound or 12 to 15 spears. Really large, fleshy asparagus spears that are an inch thick can stand alone with three to four servings.
STORAGE Asparagus will keep for a few days in a damp paper or cloth towel in the humidifier drawer of the refrigerator. Or put the stems in the refrigerator in a container with about two inches of water in the bottom.
PREPARATION With the exception of the thinnest asparagus, the woody end of each stem should be broken off where they naturally break. If you plan to cut your asparagus into centimeter-long pieces for frying or boiling and mashing it for soup or dip, you don’t have to peel it beforehand. For other dishes, however, all but the top quarter of the spear should be peeled. A regular vegetable peeler will do, although there are efficient specialty utensils with a built-in peeling function that will hold the handle in place. To cook asparagus, simply place the spears flat in a pan and cover them with water. Large, narrow asparagus pots hold the spears upright for steaming, although a steamer basket large enough to leave in a deep skillet or pan works well. Thicker stems should be cooked more thoroughly.
PORTION As with corn, there is a whole home industry of specialized asparagus tools and servers. Plates and plates made of porcelain and majolica decorated with asparagus patterns, as well as pressed-in silver asparagus tongs for serving, are what you need for antique markets. Manner books once addressed the appropriateness of eating asparagus like finger food, but it depends on how it is prepared. Spears soaked in Hollandaise need a fork. Trendier concoctions include pureeing asparagus for a guacamole-like dip or shaving with a vegetable peeler for a refreshing green tangle in a spring or summer salad.
Recipe: Shaved asparagus with rocket and parmesan
Recipe: Asparagus with brown butter