Color helps indicate asparagus tenderness

Associated Press

STOCKTON, Calif. -- Finding fresh seasonal asparagus in the market is one of spring's treats. It's fast to cook, tastes delectable, has nutritional value but only about 25 calories per serving.

Thin or jumbo-size spears can be equally tender. Color helps indicate tenderness: the greener for green asparagus, or the whiter for white asparagus, the better. Spring asparagus should be bright green with compact, firm tips and smooth skin.

A pound of asparagus gives 12 to 15 spears, 9 to 10 inches long, 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick, and serves 2 to 4 people. One pound trimmed asparagus spears yields about 3 cups cut up.

How you handle your asparagus can add to the pleasure of eating it. Take care to:


Treat asparagus spears almost like flowers. Trim the butt end of the spears, then refrigerate, upright, standing in an inch of water. Cover with plastic. Or, wrap the cut ends in a wet paper towel and store in a plastic bag. Stored this way, fresh asparagus keeps for two to three days refrigerated.

Cook asparagus until fork tender: It is done as soon as a fork just pierces the spear's butt end, cooking time varying from about 2 to 8 minutes depending on cooking method. Do not overcook; if you do, the asparagus will absorb water and break down.

Remove asparagus from the heat a little on the underdone side, because it will cook a bit more as it cools. You can also test for doneness by biting the end of the spear: It should have a slight crunch.

Cook whole trimmed asparagus spears by blanching or boiling, steaming, microwaving or grilling. To stir-fry, cut spears into 1-inch lengths.

Serve immediately, warm, or allow to cool to room temperature if you prefer.

May be served with unsalted butter, salt and pepper; sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese, drizzled with melted butter, then broiled to brown cheese; with classic hollandaise sauce; drizzled with olive oil and fresh lemon juice, coarse salt and pepper; with vinaigrette.

Room-temperature asparagus may also be served with vinaigrette topped with grated hard-cooked egg and minced fresh parsley; or with dipping sauces such as aioli or horseradish cream.

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