Spring Treat: How to Buy, Clean, and Prepare Asparagus

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It doesn't quite feel like spring is officially here until asparagus has been spotted, does it? We saw several bunches for sale this past week and are looking forward to eating as much asparagus as we can until its brief season is over. If you're new to this vegetable, here are the best ways to pick, clean, and cook them!

Buying the Best - Look for asparagus that are plump and straight. Check out the ends and put back any bunches with dry, split, or excessively woody stems as this is a sign of older asparagus. Thick or thin asparagus is really a matter of personal taste - thin spears are more tender and sweet, while fatter stems have a meatier texture and stronger asparagus flavor.

Store asparagus in the refrigerator in a loose plastic grocery bag. Use them within a few days of buying.

Cleaning Asparagus - Rinse the spears under cool water to remove any grit. Snap off the bottom inch or so using your fingers; the stems will naturally break where the tough woody part ends and the tender stem begins. Dry the spears by rolling them between two kitchen towels. You can leave the spears whole or cut them into smaller bite-sized pieces for a stir-fry or other preparation.

Really thick asparagus can sometimes develop a tough outer skin. It's not strictly necessary, but you can peel this coating away with a vegetable peeler.

Cooking Asparagus - Our personal favorite way to prepare asparagus is to coat it with a little olive oil, sprinkle it with salt, and roast it in the oven or under the broiler until the outside picks up some browned crispy bits. We could, and have, eaten an entire bunch at once when cooked this way!

You can also steam asparagus spears or poach them in salted boiling water. When you get tired of eating asparagus on its own, you can throw bite-sized pieces in a stir-fry, in frittata, or in a pasta sauce.

However you choose to prepare them, asparagus is done when it's tender and still has a slight bite to it. Undercooked asparagus will be difficult to chew, and overcooked asparagus will taste mushy. You can pierce the spears with a fork or skewer to gauge how cooked they are, but we prefer to just bite into one!

What are your favorite ways to eat asparagus?

Related: Easter Brunch: Cold Asparagus Two Ways

(Image: Flickr member bensonkua licensed under Creative Commons)