Asparagus has a
relatively short growing season from late spring to early summer.
Nowadays, it is available in the shops almost all year round but outside
the season it will have to be imported. It is still good, but it is
expensive and will not have the flavor of home-produced asparagus, since
it starts to lose its flavor once it is cut. When buying asparagus, the
tips should be tightly furled and fresh looking, and the stalks fresh
and straight. If the stalks are badly scarred or droopy, it indicates
that they have been hanging around for too long and it is not worth
buying. Asparagus will keep for several days if necessary. Untie the
bundles and store in the salad drawer of the refrigerator.
Preparing : Unless the asparagus comes
straight from the garden, cut off the bottom of the stalk as it is
usually hard and woody. If the bottom parts of the stem also feel hard,
pare this away with a potato peeler. However, if the asparagus is very
fresh, this is not necessary and sprue rarely needs trimming at all.
Cooking : The problem with cooking asparagus
is that the stalks take longer to cook than the tender tips, which need
to be only briefly steamed. Ideally, use an asparagus kettle. Place the
asparagus spears with the tips upwards in the wire basket and then lower
into a little boiling salted water in the kettle. Cover and cook until
the stems are tender. Alternatively, if you don't have an asparagus
kettle, place the bundle upright in a deep saucepan of boiling salted
water. (The bundle can be wedged in place with potatoes.) Cover with a
dome of foil and cook for 5-10 minutes or until the spears are tender.
The cooking time depends largely on the thickness of the spears but take
care not to overcook; the spears should still have a "bite" to them.
Asparagus can also be roasted in a little
olive oil. This cooking method intensifies the flavor and is
gratifyingly simple. Serve with just a sprinkling of sea salt and it's
quite delicious. If steaming asparagus, serve simply with melted butter,
which perfectly complements the luxury of the vegetable.