Pick up a bunch of asparagus from the farmer's market or grocery store, and use this cooking guide to roast, steam, simmer, grill, or microwave the spears to perfection.
Asparagus season is considered to be spring, but you'll find this popular vegetable in markets year-round. Look for firm, bright green spears with healthy tips that are tight and not mushy. Spear size ranges from fat -- these come from older plants -- to pencil thin. Whether you like skinny or fat spears is personal preference, but for even cooking, choose spears that are uniform in size. When possible, enjoy asparagus the day you purchase it. Or wrap the bases in a damp paper towel, place in a plastic bag, and refrigerate for up to four days. You can also stand asparagus spears upright in a container filled with 1 inch of water. Cover the asparagus and the container with a plastic bag.
Tip: One pound of asparagus equals 18 to 24 spears or four servings.
Thick or Thin:Each has its fans. Thin asparagus is tender with a slightly crisp center. Thick asparagus has more of a meaty center and therefore more crunch and texture. For thick asparagus spears, peel off the woody outside part--about 2 inches up from the stem end--with a vegetable peeler.
Because asparagus is grown in sandy soil, rinse the spears -- especially the tips -- with cold water. Snap off the woody base of each spear by bending the spear a few times to find a place where it breaks easily. This is usually around the bottom third of the spear and where the woody part starts to turn tender. If desired, scrape off the scales on the spears with a vegetable peeler. This gives the spears a smooth, clean look and is especially beneficial for tough or fat spears.
Cooking methods (based on cooking 1 pound asparagus)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place asparagus on a baking sheet or in a baking dish, and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Toss lightly to coat. If desired, season with salt and pepper. Roast, uncovered, about 15 minutes or until crisp-tender, lightly tossing twice during roasting. If desired, season with herbs and lemon.
Place a steamer basket in a saucepan. Add water to just below the bottom of the basket. Bring water to boiling. Add asparagus to steamer basket. Cover and reduce heat. Steam for 3 to 5 minutes or until crisp-tender.
Generously brush asparagus with olive oil or melted butter or margarine. This keeps the spears from sticking to the grill rack. Place asparagus on a piece of heavy foil or directly on a grill rack, perpendicular to the wires on the rack. For a charcoal grill, place asparagus on grill rack directly over the coals. Grill, uncovered, for 7 to 10 minutes or until crisp-tender, turning occasionally. For a gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium. Place asparagus on grill rack directly over heat. Grill, covered, for 7 to 10 minutes or until crisp-tender, turning occasionally.
Place asparagus in a microwave-safe baking dish or casserole with 2 tablespoons water. Microwave, covered, on 100 percent power (high) for 2 to 4 minutes or until crisp-tender.
The classic blanching method requires boiling then shocking the asparagus in an ice bath to stop the cooking, resulting in perfectly cooked, yet cold asparagus. To make and serve warm right away without shocking, place asparagus in a single layer in a shallow baking dish. Cover with about 2 cups of boiling salted water. Let stand for 10 to 12 minutes, until bright green and crisp-tender. Drain; serve warm.
For asparagus recipes: