Whether you’re shopping at farmers markets or grocery store, you know the window for asparagus is small. That means you need to be prepared for action to maximize your use of these delicious, nutrient-packed veggies.
Here’s our quick-hit guide for how to get, keep and prepare this special spring treat.
HOW TO BUY ASPARAGUS
When selecting asparagus, look for stems that are plump and straight (not wilty) and avoid bunches with dry, split or woody ends. Look for stems that are bright green and perky — not shriveled or wrinkled.
THICK OR THIN?
The rumors about asparagus would tell you thinner stalks mean a more tender and sweet asparagus, but, as it turns out, selecting thick or thin asparagus is completely a matter of preference and depends on how you plan to prepare it.
Thicker asparagus comes from older plants and often has a more vegetal flavor, but this isn’t a superior or inferior quality. An average bundle of asparagus is about 1 pound (approximately 18–24 spears,) and yields about 4 servings of asparagus. Thick asparagus is often juicy and perfect for serving as a side dish on its own or with poached eggs. It loves to be blanched, tossed with butter and olive oil, roasted or even grilled.
Thin asparagus is perfect for eating raw, such as shaving into ribbons or chopping up for salads. It also does well steamed, stir-fried and in pestos and sauces.
GREEN, PURPLE OR WHITE?
Green asparagus is the most widely available in supermarkets, but you’re sure to find purple and white in smaller local markets. There are several types of green asparagus, with a variety of spear sizes and green hues.
There aren’t any special conditions required to grow purple asparagus, (which is actually a variety of green asparagus in disguise.) The outside of the asparagus is purple, but the interior is green and the purple hue disappears when the asparagus is cooked. It’s typically sweeter than green asparagus, which makes it perfect for eating raw.
White asparagus is grown without sunlight, preventing the plant from making chlorophyll (which turns the stalks green). White asparagus is very thick and less tender than the other varieties. To prepare it, cut off the bottom 2 inches of the stems, then peel and blanch them and enjoy with hollandaise … or your other favorite dip.
HOW TO STORE
Asparagus is actually part of the lily family, which explains why the best way to keep asparagus fresh is to store it like flowers.
Fill a glass or jar with a couple of inches of water, and trim your asparagus stalks woody ends by 1/4–1/2 inch. Then, place the stalks in the jar as you would flowers. Cook and enjoy it within a couple of days. If the aroma of asparagus is a bit much for your fridge, cover the stalks with plastic wrap.
HOW TO COOK
Now that you’ve got beautiful asparagus stalks in your possession, it’s time to cook and enjoy them. Below you’ll find the best ways to work with asparagus and some ideas for what to do once your asparagus is perfectly cooked.
Preheat your oven to 400°F (204°C). Dry your asparagus by rolling it around on a kitchen towel or paper towel. Then, place the asparagus in a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil — use about 1 tablespoon of oil per pound of asparagus. Add a few pinches of salt and pepper and toss gently with your hands until all of the asparagus is coated. Spread the asparagus on a large rimmed sheet pan in a single layer. Then, roast, opening the oven to roll the asparagus around once or twice, until golden brown and tender, 15–20 minutes.
Roasted asparagus is great tossed into salads, as a side dish or incorporated into your favorite pasta. Or, keep roasted asparagus on hand for a day or so and add to scrambled eggs.
Dry your asparagus by rolling it around in a kitchen towel or paper towel. (Doing this prevents any residual water from steaming the asparagus instead of grilling it.) Place the asparagus in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil — about 1 tablespoon per pound of asparagus. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and toss until coated. Lay spears on a grill heated to medium-high (about 450°F or 232°C). Close the grill for a couple minutes, then open and turn asparagus with tongs. Cook for 2–3 more minutes, turning once or twice more, until the asparagus is tender and charred in spots.
A note about smoke points: If you’re concerned about your olive oil reaching its smoke point, a good alternative is avocado oil. Avoid roasting or grilling with extra-virgin olive oil, which has a lower smoke point and gives an off-flavor to your asparagus.
Grilled asparagus is great in salads and grain bowls or with eggs and pasta. It’s also so delightful on its own, that it makes sense to enjoy it in ways it can shine — as a side dish or on top of pizza would be lovely.
There are lots of reasons to simply simmer your asparagus, too. To do so, fill a large pot with water, and a large bowl with cold water and a few ice cubes. Place the pot over high heat. Bring to a boil and add the asparagus. Cook for 2–3 minutes, until the asparagus is just tender. Using tongs, immediately transfer the asparagus to the bowl of ice water. The cold water helps stop the asparagus from cooking. Remove from water and serve. If you like to peel your asparagus, now is the time to do it.
Simmered asparagus is great as is. You can also toss it into salads, grain bowls, soups and spring stews. Asparagus makes an amazing pesto — simply replace the quantity of basil or greens in your favorite pesto with simmered asparagus.