The tender green spears of asparagus have been prized as a delicacy since Roman times. Asparagus tastes delicious and is loaded with vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants.
It’s a wonderfully versatile vegetable too. Quick to cook, asparagus can be eaten on its own with a little seasoning or a light sauce as a starter; served as a side dish or enjoyed in all sorts of recipes such as asparagus and spinach soup, asparagus, pea and goat’s cheese soufflés and asparagus, pancetta and parmesan linguine with chive cream.
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How to prepare asparagus
Choose firm, bright green spears with tightly closed tips. Pencil-thin asparagus is a good choice for stir-fries and salads, while thicker stems make an elegant starter.
Asparagus is best used within two or three days of purchase. Store your asparagus in the fridge upright in a glass of cold water or with a moist paper towel wrapped loosely around the bottom of the stems.
As asparagus is grown in sandy soil, wash it first under cold running water to remove any residue left in the tips.
Remove the tough, woody base from thicker asparagus by gently bending each spear until it snaps in two, and then discard the end. Alternatively, place the asparagus on a cutting board and chop off about 2 inches from the bottom of all the woody spears.
If serving asparagus cold in a salad, blanch it first. Place the asparagus in a large pot of boiling salted water and let it cook for a couple of minutes. Test a spear to check if it’s cooked but still firm. Remove from the heat and plunge the asparagus in a bowl of ice-cold water to stop the cooking process.
Visit our asparagus recipe section for delicious ways to cook with asparagus
Steam or boil asparagus
Steaming is the best way to preserve asparagus’ nutrients and keep spears crisp. Place the asparagus either in a steamer basket over a saucepan with a little boiling water or stand the asparagus upright in three inches of boiling water. Cover and cook for 3 to 6 minutes.
To boil asparagus, submerge it in a large saucepan of boiling salted water, then cover and cook for 3 to 6 minutes. It’s easy to overcook asparagus so remove it from the boiling water as soon as it’s tender. Tying the asparagus spears in a bundle makes it easier to remove from the water once cooked.
To cook asparagus quickly, use a microwave. Place the spears in a microwave dish, add three tablespoons water and microwave, covered, on high for 2 to 4 minutes or until the spears are just tender.
Recipe: lamb, asparagus and mint salad
How to roast asparagus
Preheat your oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas 7. Place the spears on a baking sheet in a single layer so they cook evenly. Drizzle a little olive oil over the spears and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 10 to 12 minutes, turning the spears a couple of times if they’re thick.
Recipe: roasted asparagus with chilli and lime butter
How to chargrill or barbecue asparagus
This will impart a delicious smoky flavour to your asparagus. Toss the spears in a little olive oil, season lightly and place in a ridged grill pan over a high heat. Cook for 3 to 6 minutes turning the spears once or twice. On the barbecue: cook the spears until slightly brown.
Recipe: chargrilled courgttes and asparagus with a tarragon dressing
How to sauté or stir-fry asparagus
It’s best to use thin asparagus for this but if the spears are a little thick, blanch and drain them first before adding to the frying pan. You can cut the spears into smaller pieces or leave whole to suit your recipe. Heat a wok, frying pan or sauté pan until hot, then add the asparagus and cook for 3 to 6 minutes. Toss the spears with butter, soy sauce or other sauce depending on your recipe.
Recipe: spicy chicken and asparagus pasta
Dress your perfectly cooked asparagus with olive oil or melted butter; a sprinkle of Parmesan, lemon juice and zest or with its classic partner, hollandaise sauce.
You can buy imported asparagus all year round, but look out for the sweet, full flavoured British asparagus when on sale from the end of April to July.
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