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Guide to Vegatables

Preparing and Cooking Asparagus

Preparing and Cooking Asparagus

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.

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