Asparagus: To know it is to love it. And is there a more beautiful harbinger of spring than seeing these beauties waving to you at the farmers’ market? We think not. The tall, crisp-tender spears can be pencil-thin or as thick as a 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 the spring vegetable, and find some simple ways to prepare them this season, straight from the Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen.
Asparagus: Everything You Need to Know
Look for firm stalks with tight, dry, often purple-tinged tips. The cut end should look freshly shorn 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.
Most American asparagus varieties are green, but white asparagus, beloved in Europe, is becoming more popular. It’s the same vegetable, but the spears grow in soil, 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.
The Asparagus Toolkit
Asparagus aficionados need asparagus gear! Consider OXO Peelers, for trimming ends and shaving thin strips. Be sure you have a good steaming basket, such as this OXO Pop-Up Vegetable Steamer with an extendable handle. Locking tongs are key if you’re a griller or broiler of asparagus, and the All-Clad Stainless-Steel Asparagus Pot, designed specifically for cooking tall, slender stalks, is just cool as can be to behold.
Asparagus is delicious simply steamed or boiled. Cook the stalks vertically in a 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 the vegetable 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.
1. Quick Roasted Asparagus
Superbly fuss-free: Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Broil until tender for 3 to 5 minutes.
The most memorable pasta dishes, like asparagus, have a tiny bit of bite. Enter: rigatoni with a smattering of walnuts, ricotta salata, freshly grated Parmesan, pesto, and our friend asparagus. A dreamboat of a dish, and a snap to make.
Even the family member or friend who “doesn’t do” salads will have her head turned by the aesthetic of this dish. Stunning in its 30-minute simple prep and half-dozen ingredients, the salad mingles grilled asparagus and endive, oranges, favas, mint, and olive oil. Sweet and salty, hot and aromatic, and outrageously seasonal, it’s spring in a bowl.
Here’s a one-pan supermodel of a meal. Hearty halibut nestles alongside asparagus, pine nuts, dill, parsley, lemon and fennel. Put the whole shebang on a trivet on the porch with a set of tongs, break out some very cold Grüner Veltliner, set out glasses, plates and a few napkins, and call it dinner. There will be no complaints.
We love when plenty of protein hangs out with plenty of veggies in one pan, and you can just add good bread and butter and call it dinner. These chicken cutlets take a brief dip in flour before joining asparagus and sugar snaps, thyme and chives. Lemon juice and chicken broth help to make a light gravy of sorts, but the whole thing feels light and fresh.
Reading the ingredient list for this Gothic beauty of a salad, you’d be forgiven if all you could hear is “spring, spring, spring, spring.” These are all the green things we crave right now: sugar snap peas; asparagus; shelled English peas; mint; pea shoots. There’s olive oil for unctuousness, lemon juice and vinegar for zip, and a flurry of mint for a knockout bouquet.
Sip your veggies this spring. Asparagus soup features a full pound and a half of the stalks, plus dry vermouth, plenty of cream, garlic, onion, and a half-stick of butter. It’s better than the version you’ve ordered in restaurants, and the hands-on time is just 20 minutes.
Burrata. Frozen puff pastry. A balsamic glaze you drizzle on top. There’s a lot to love here, and this tart is arguably easier to make than pizza. Feed it to guests, and don’t tell them how fast it was to pull it off.
Picture the best Spanish tortilla you’ve ever tasted. Then, in your mind’s eye, add asparagus and spring onion. Boom: It’s precisely as good as it sounds, and we’ve got North Carolina chef Katie Button’s recipe. Since some spring days are hot as Hades, we love, too, that you can do the whole thing stovetop, no sweat.
Guys, guys. Asparagus fries. Asparagus fries!! Exactly as epic as they look, and so foolproof to execute: panko and an egg dip and some time on a sheet pan in a very hot oven. And, what’s better to dip them in than a Meyer lemon aioli! We’re going to go out on a limb and say that you make these guys once, they will go into regular rotation, so make sure your asparagus budget is rock-solid.