Considered a delicacy and the queen of all vegetables, asparagus is more versatile than most of us think. This aristocratic vegetable is a member of the lily family, related to onions, leeks and garlic. Available in both green and white forms, asparagus is rich in vitamins and minerals.
The white ones are not as common as the green but worth trying when available. When I was living in Germany, they were available because they are more popular in Europe. The whites are regular asparagus planted under piles of soil that prevent the spears from developing chlorophyll, which gives the vegetable its green color.
The thin stalks are called pencil spears, and they're usually more tender than the thicker ones. Look for firm green to purple spears and check the stem ends. They should not be dried out or moldy, which means they are old.
Flat or twisted stalks are a sign of tough and stringy asparagus. One bunch or a pound will feed two to three people. Try to cook asparagus the day you buy it as it loses flavor and vitamins quickly. Wash asparagus well before cooking.
There are many ways to cook this vegetable. Here are some of our favorites:
- Steaming: Use a tall pot with a lid and if you have a steamer basket, use it. Put 2 inches water in the pot. Stand the asparagus in the pot, cover and cook 5 to 7 minutes until tender.
- Roasting: Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Toss the spears with olive oil and minced garlic and place in a roasting pan. Roast 6 to 10 minutes until golden brown and tender. Turn once during the cooking process.
- Grilling: You can use any marinade or dressing to flavor asparagus headed for the grill. I like a bit of Asian sesame oil and soy sauce. Grill the spears over medium heat 6 to 10 minutes until tender.
- Stir-frying: Cut the spears in 2-inch lengths on the diagonal for fast cooking that will help retain peak nutritional value. Asparagus can be combined with any other vegetables and cubes of tofu or tempeh.
- Microwaving: I use this method only if really pressed for time. Otherwise I avoid it. Place the spears in a microwave-safe dish with 1 inch water. Cover lightly with plastic wrap. Cook on high 5 to 7 minutes.
Asparagus can be eaten hot, at room temperature or chilled with grated parmesan or soy parmesan; butter or soy margarine; crumbled hard-boiled eggs; extra-virgin olive oil and lemon; fresh herbs; or toasted nuts such as almonds, walnuts or pecans.
—By Chef Steve Petusevsky