The air is warm, the greenmarkets are buzzing, and people everywhere in New York City are clamoring for that first sign of spring: asparagus.
These tender green spears, often tinged with purple, are at their most flavorful in early spring. Choose your asparagus carefully–these delicate stalks turn slimy and limp when they are not fresh. You want to choose spears with tight heads and no flowers. Some prefer the thin, herby stalks and others like the thicker, meaty stalks that tend to be a little less grassy.
Asparagus should not be eaten in their entirety unless they are incredibly thin and short—the ends of most asparagus stalks turn woody and taste stale. To find where a bunch of asparagus should be cut, take one spear and bend it at either end. Wherever the asparagus snaps is where the asparagus should naturally break. Just cut off the rest of the ends and cook the asparagus.
If you want a mild taste that would be perfect dipped into a fresh mayonnaise or herbal hollandaise, steam your asparagus. Don’t boil it, because the asparagus will absorb too much water and become soggy.
If you want a crispy, crunchy, caramelized treat, roast the asparagus at 350°F for about an hour, or until the asparagus are really shriveled and have a great browning to them. That isn’t burned, that’s caramelization—it’s flavor. Be sure to liberally douse the asparagus with oil before you roast it—try olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and parmesan cheese for an Italian flavor. Use sesame oil and chopped scallions for an Asian taste. Or go for canola oil and crumbled bacon for a down-home American side dish.
Asparagus can also be eaten raw, thinly shaved and served with a dressing of olive oil, lemon, and shaved Pecorino Romano cheese. Sandwiched between soft white bread with cream cheese, it’s elegant. And however you serve asparagus, it is undeniably spring.