Asparagus is, for me, the queen of vegetables, and it’s best eaten with the fingers as fresh as possible. The first UK asparagus crops are harvested in late March, but the best of the season is from April to mid-June. Traditionally, it would not be cut after the longest day of the year, so that the plants can replenish their crown reserves for the next year.
Asparagus grows as shoots (‘spears’) from a crown or rhizomes (underground stems) just beneath the soil. These crowns take three years to start growing harvestable shoots, which are cut early in the morning, as they develop each day. The thicker ‘spears’ usually grow on the older crowns of asparagus, and the thinner ones are from the younger crowns.
Shopping: To judge whether asparagus is fresh and good quality just look at the small bracts, or leaves, which grow just behind the tips. These should be well formed, lie flat along the stem, and not be shooting. The cut at the base of the spear should appear fresh and feel hard rather than spongy. This cut end is often tough and should be broken off before cooking. Just bend the spear near the cut end and it will snap off crisply leaving the tender spears for cooking. Don’t throw away the tougher ends. Add them to stocks and soups as they are full of flavour.
Preparing: Asparagus can be eaten as thin stalks, which are great for stir-fries and with pasta, or as chunky spears, which can be simply grilled or baked and served with a drizzle of olive oil. Either way, here are a few basic techniques for preparing asparagus:
You can find more asparagus recipes and tips in Rachel's column in Vegetarian Living Magazine.
Delicious food photography by Rob Wicks of Eat Pictures.
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