Soon, those slender green stalks from our biggest asparagus growing states -- California, Washington Michigan -- will be filling the produce sections.
There are three basic kinds of asparagus, the omnipresent green, and the harder-to-find white and purple. White are usually more expensive, and are harvested just as their tips break the soil. It's the lack of sun exposure that keeps them creamy white. The purple asparagus are picked when they are about three inches above the soil. Green go all the way -- about 8 inches above the soil.
Choosing: No matter the color, since you are buying asparagus by the pound, buy only those that are worthy of a trip home. They might be banded together, but if the bunch contains stalks that are wilted or with buds that are open, not tightly closed, remove them from the bunch and leave them at the store. I like my asparagus thin, definitely no more than 1/2-inch thick. Spears should be uniform in size so they cook evenly.
Storing: My mother taught me to wrap the base of asparagus in damp paper towels in a sealed plastic bag, which I always do. They will keep fresh for four or five days this way.
To peel or not to peel: I never peel, because I usually choose thin stalks. If they are a bit thicker and the skin seems thick and tough, peeling is the way to go.
To cook: Snap each stem -- it automatically breaks the tough ends off. If I am making asparagus for company, I will first break, and then cut each stem at an angle. For myself or family, the snap is sufficient.
- Boiling: Thin asparagus are cooked in boiling salted water 3 minutes; thicker asparagus about five minutes. Do not overcook.
- Steaming: If you have an asparagus steamer, it will keep the stalks standing upright. Nice, but not mandatory. Flat steamers are the other option. For either steams, put an inch or two of water in the bottom of the steamer, and the stalks will be done in 2 to 5 minutes.
- Roasting, my new favorite method of cooking asparagus. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, pat the stalks dry, and place them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, roll the asparagus in the oil, and roast about 15 minutes, turning the asparagus a few time for even cooking. Likewise, they can be grilled the same way, coated with olive oil, but they will cook in about 5 minutes.
My favorite way to serve asparagus is simply as is, or topped with buttered bread crumbs. That's it. I really do not want other flavors fighting with spring asparagus.
The next recipe is one my mother used to make frequently, and of course, only in the spring. It reminds me of Good Friday, because for some reason, she also served this with grilled fish.
VI'S SPRING MIX
1 bunch thin asparagus, tough stems broken, and stalks cut in 1-inch pieces
1 Tblsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lb. sugar snap peas
5 radishes, stems trimmed, and sliced
Zest from 1 lemon
Juice from half a lemon
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
- Place asparagus in a boiling salted water and cook 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well and dry on paper towels.
- Heat olive oil in saute pan. Add sugar snaps and saute three minutes. Add asparagus, radishes. lemon zest and lemon juice and saute until vegetables are heated through, about three minutes.
- Remove from heat. Stir in dill and sprinkle with almonds.