Asparagus: the basics

asparagus-bunchChoose the right stuff: When shopping for fresh asparagus, a vibrant green (or purple or white) and buds/tips that still look tight mean that your veg is fresh and flavorful. Discoloration, or dryness/splits at the root end mean it’s been too long since the asparagus was picked.

Rainbow bright. There are three colors of asparagus: green, purple and white. Green is the most common variety, and tastes best when it is cooked al dente. Purple asparagus is like purple string beans: it turns green when cooked. White asparagus is heavily mulched / grown in darkness, and has a tougher texture. White asparagus needs to be peeled from tip to tail, and, in stark opposition to green asparagus, should be well-cooked. Don’t cook white and green asparagus together: the green will discolor the white spears.

asparagus-tipsThrough thick and thin. The thickness of the asparagus’ stalk does not indicate its maturity; a thin asparagus spear does not grow into a fat one. You can make a tasty dish with either. Thin is great for stir-fries and saute; thick is, not surprisingly, hardier and a good pick for roasting or grilling.

Put it away, put it away, put it away now, and then in a plastic bag, no longer than three days. You do not need to clean asparagus before stashing it in the fridge. You could also store asparagus standing up in a wide-mouth jar or other container, with an inch of water in the bottom. Keep it in the fridge, uncovered, and use it within a few days.

asparagus-preparing-spearsReady to cook up some asparagus? First, prepare the stems – by snapping or chopping off the bottom of the stalks. Peel the woody parts on the lower end of the stalk if they don’t feel tender to you.

Next, choose a favorite asparagus recipe (lots to choose among here), or try one of the following ultra-simple cooking methods:

Roast asparagus 101: Olive Oil. Salt. Pepper. Toss with asparagus spears, roast on baking sheet or in a dish at 425F for 10-15 min (err on the quicker, undercooked side).

asparagus-simple-cooking-squarepicSteamed asparagus 101: 1″ of salted boiling water in the bottom of the pot. Asparagus, in a single layer, in the steamer basket. Cover and cook, 3 min max. Remove asparagus from steamer basket and blot excess moisture with a paper or kitchen towel. Eat it naked (the asparagus, not you, silly), or with a light drizzle of lemon juice and olive oil.

Blanch it! (not Cate) 101 In a wide pot, boil a few inches of generously salted water and add your asparagus, either whole stalks or cut into pieces. Cook at a rapid simmer for 1 minutes. Then immediately plunge the spears into a bowl of ice water to halt the cooking and to keep them green. Remove from ice water and blot, otherwise risk waterlogged asparagus.