Asparagus is a little late this year but soon we will have gorgeous bunches of locally grown spears for our plates. Asparagus is one of the most delightful treats when it comes from a short distance away. It has an earthy, bright taste and a succulence that is hard to beat in a vegetable.
The veg comes in three colours, and will be either thick or thin. Green is the most prolific, white is the same species but grown under mounds of earth so that it never sees the sun, and purple is a cultivar originally grown in Italy. Purple is sweeter than green. For a pure taste experience thick stalks are superior but must be peeled, a chore many people avoid. But it is easy. Snap off the end of the stem as it is woody, and use a potato peeler to remove the tough outer skin. It will taste like a different vegetable. Thin stalks do not need to be peeled, but they are not as tasty. Nutritionally, asparagus provides fibre, folate and other nutrients to support heart health and it’s rich in anti-oxidants.
Store asparagus by snapping off the ends and placing in a container of water up to the tips. It will keep fresh for days.
To cook green asparagus, briefly boil in salted water, or steam. It should be served al dente. White asparagus needs a little sugar in the boiling water to prevent it from being too bitter, while the purple variety needs very brief cooking, best sautéed, to keep its colour – further cooking will turn it green again.
Asparagus roasts and grills well, but only do so with fat spears. Roast at 425 F for about 10 minutes depending on the size of the spear, or grill spears for about 10 minutes, rolling over occasionally.
When cooking with thin spears, toss them into boiling water and as soon as the water comes back to the boil, drain, then splash with cold water to stop the cooking and prevent them becoming limp. They are best for salads. If serving cold, leave in ice water until completely cooled.
Asparagus pairs wonderfully with hollandaise, butter, citrus, parmesan, olive oil, tarragon, chives, parsley, shallots, brown butter, eggs, capers, ginger, soy.
One of my favourite cooking methods is stir-frying. I do not peel the stalks but slice the asparagus in two-inch pieces on the diagonal. Heat oil in a wok, flavour with ginger or garlic or both and toss in the spears. Stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes or until al dente. Stir in some soy sauce and a touch of butter for the perfect side dish. Alternatively, brown some butter and cook the asparagus the same way. Finish with lemon juice
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