Spring is asparagus season, 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 (older plants) to pencil thin. Whether you like skinny or fat spears is a personal preference, but choose uniform spears for even cooking. When possible, use asparagus the day you purchase it. If that is not possible, 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. Then you just have to choose how to cook asparagus your favorite way.
Editor's tip: One pound of asparagus equals 18 to 24 spears or four servings.
Thick or thin? Each of these types has its fans. Thin asparagus is tender with a slightly crisp center; thick asparagus has a meatier center and therefore more crunch and texture. For thick asparagus spears, peel off the woody outer part—about 2 inches up the stem end— with a vegetable peeler.
Asparagus is grown in sandy soil, so it needs to be rinsed (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 where the woody part starts to turn tender. You can also line up the stem ends and trim off an inch or so.
If desired, scrape off the scales on the spears using a vegetable peeler. This gives spears a smooth, clean look and improves tough or fat spears.
The key to roasting asparagus is a high oven temperature.
Preheat the oven to 450°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 black pepper. Roast, uncovered, about 15 minutes or until crisp-tender, lightly tossing twice during roasting. If desired, season with herbs and lemon.
*Roasted asparagus tip: Use tongs to grab asparagus spears for easier tossing during roasting.
Our favorite roasted asparagus recipes:
Cooking asparagus on the grill gives it a slightly smoky flavor.
Here's how to grill asparagus: 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 the grill rack, perpendicular to the wires on the rack. For a charcoal grill, place asparagus directly over the coals. Grill, uncovered, 7 to 10 minutes or until crisp-tender, turning occasionally. For a gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium. Place asparagus directly over heat. Grill, covered, 7 to 10 minutes or until crisp-tender, turning occasionally.
Grilled asparagus recipes to try:
The best way to cook asparagus without adding fat is steaming. All it takes is water, which makes it one of our favorite ways to cook asparagus!
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.
When you cook asparagus on the stove, it's best to lightly salt the water. It flavors the asparagus as it cooks!
Place the spears in a large skillet and cover with 1 inch of water. Lightly salt the water and bring to simmering. Cook, covered, for 3 to 5 minutes or until crisp-tender.
You can also cook asparagus stir-fry-style in a skillet with a bit of oil.
Skillet-cooked asparagus recipe:
Sauteed asparagus is one of the fastest ways to cook asparagus. To saute asparagus, cut cleaned asparagus into 2-inch pieces. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet (or heat 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat). Add cut-up asparagus and cook 3 to 5 minutes or until crisp-tender.
*For sauteed garlic asparagus: Follow directions above, except before adding the asparagus, add 1 to 2 cloves of garlic to the hot oil and cook 15 to 30 seconds.
Sauteed asparagus recipes:
Among the many ways to cook asparagus, classic blanched asparagus stands out and is excellent in salads and appetizers. It's one of the most common ways to cook asparagus.
Classic blanching requires boiling the asparagus, then shocking it in an ice bath to stop the cooking, resulting in perfectly cooked yet cold asparagus. To make and serve warm without shocking, place asparagus in a single layer in a shallow baking dish. Cover with about 2 cups of salted boiling water. Let stand for 10 to 12 minutes or until bright green and crisp-tender. Drain; serve warm.
Blanched asparagus recipes:
This is the easiest asparagus recipe ever!
Place asparagus in a microwave-safe baking dish or casserole with 2 tablespoons water. Microwave, covered, for 2 to 4 minutes or until crisp-tender.