You know spring has finally arrived when asparagus pops up at your farmers’ market. These tall, crisp-tender spears can be pencil-thin or as thick as a man’s thumb. No matter how you like them, they’ll find a place on your dining table throughout the season. Read on for our best tips for working with asparagus, then find some simple ways to prepare them this season, straight from the Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen.
Look for: Choose firm stalks and tight, dry, often purple-tinged tips. The cut end should look freshly cut and not too dried out. If there is slight spreading at the top, the spears are still good. The length of the stalk should be all or mostly green, and the white at the bottom should be discarded before cooking.
Prep tips: Snap or cut off the woody stem end of each asparagus spear. Using a vegetable peeler, strip away the tough outer skin of the asparagus spear, starting 1 to 2 inches below the base of the tip and cutting slightly thicker as you near the end.
Uses: Asparagus is delicious simply steamed or boiled. Cook the stalks vertically in an asparagus pot or horizontally in a large fry pan (not a crowded saucepan) and serve hot, topped with melted butter and a squeeze of lemon juice, or cold, dressed with vinaigrette. You can also coat asparagus with olive oil and roast in the oven or grill it. Slender spears are good sautéed in a bit of olive oil or butter and tossed with pasta; stockier spears are great additions to soups and stews.
Variations: Most asparagus sold in the United States is green, but white asparagus, beloved in Europe, is becoming increasingly popular. It’s the same vegetable, but the spears are covered with soil while growing, preventing sunlight from reaching the shoots. As a result, it has an exotic look and more delicate flavor. A purple variety of asparagus, which turns green when cooked, tends to be a little sweeter than regular asparagus.
Quick Roasted Asparagus: Toss asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper. Broil until tender for 3 to 5 minutes.
Asparagus-Prosciutto Bundles: Blanch asparagus. Spread a thin layer of soft, creamy cheese such as Boursin over thin slices of prosciutto. Wrap prosciutto around asparagus spears.
Simple Asparagus Soup: Saute shallots in butter. Add 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock and 2 lb. chopped asparagus. Cook until asparagus is tender and puree in blender.
Tagliatelle with Asparagus and Marscapone: Saute 1 chopped shallots in 2 Tbs. butter in large pan. Simmer 1 lb. chopped asparagus until tender, drain and add to shallots. Add 1 lb. cooked and drained fresh tagliatelle to pan along with 1/4 cup marscapone cheese; toss to combine.