Asparagus is an “elegant” vegetable with a unique flavor. It can be served in numerous ways, but the key to great taste is to consume it as quickly as possible after purchase.
Asparagus is pricier than most vegetables due to a long maturation period, short growing season, and need for hand harvesting.
- Green – common around the world. “Martha Washington” and “Mary Washington” are the most cultivated varieties in the U.S.
- Purple – these stalks are indeed colorful, but will turn an ordinary green when cooked. Also known as “viola.”
- White – the same variety as green, but it is grown underground and has no chlorophyll. Very popular in Europe.
Stalk size will vary and is not always an indication of age or quality. The standards are thin and medium, followed by the less-popular jumbo size.
Asparagus is also available canned (best for soups or purees) and frozen (comparable to fresh).
- Asparagus peaks in the spring and stalks will be at their fullest and freshest.
- While available year-round, flavor may be less full-bodied and some bunches can be more fibrous.
- Check for compact tips and good color (from ivory to purple to green). Stalks should be firm and bouncy, not wilted.
- Asparagus grows in sandy soil. If a bunch feels gritty, the sand may be difficult to remove from the tips.
- Buy in bunches of uniform size. Thinner stalks will cook much more quickly than thicker ones.
- Stalks kept on ice or that are refrigerated in the produce section will be fresher. If buying at an outdoor stand, avoid bunches that are in the sun.
Refrigerate in one of two ways:
- Place stalks in a tall glass, fill partially with water, and cover with plastic wrap.
- Wrap base of stalks with a wet paper towel and place in plastic bag.
Freeze fresh asparagus for up to eight months. Blanch first and drain. No need to defrost before cooking.
- The sugars in asparagus will begin to break down as soon as the stalks are harvested. Use fresh asparagus within 2-3 days of purchase.
- Hold an asparagus stalk in two hands and bend. It will usually snap at the point that should be discarded. You may also remove the tough ends with a sharp knife for uniform length. If desired, trim stalks and rinse thoroughly.
- When steaming, keep the tips near the top of the pot so they will not overcook.
- Asparagus can also be roasted, baked, stir-fried, microwaved, and grilled. Chop and add to a quiche or strata. Puree and pour over baked chicken.