Spears spring forth


April 11, 2007|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,[sun reporter]

Spring brings lots of tender vegetables, but it is asparagus that seems to symbolize the season. The appearance of skinny spears is a harbinger of variety in the grocery aisle after a monochromatic winter. Even the vegetable's name means "sprout," according to the new Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink.

You can roast heartier versions of asparagus, but the key to preserving the fragile beauty and taste of pencil-thin spears is to cook them quickly and gently, says Greg Hare, chef instructor at Baltimore International College. His preferred method for the vegetable? "Give it a nice steam."

Using an expandable steam basket, fill the bottom of a pot with salted water (about 1 / 2 teaspoon of salt per cup of water). Bring just to a boil, then add asparagus. Don't make the mistake of leaving these delicate vegetables in their steam bath for long, or they'll get floppy. Cook thick ones no more than a few minutes, tasting for doneness. Delicate, pencil-thin spears should steam for no more than a minute.

You can serve steamed asparagus immediately; "a little smudge of butter, and it's perfect," Hare says. If you'd like to eat them later, plunge the spears briefly into ice water to stop them from cooking, then drain and refrigerate.



Here are some ideas for choosing and cooking with asparagus:

Look for tightly closed tips and smooth stalks.

Don't throw away those end stalks, says Baltimore International College chef instructor Greg Hare. Use them to flavor cream of broccoli or carrot soups, then discard before serving.

Fibrous purple asparagus is used mainly for soup, Hare says.

White asparagus can be found in summer, Hare says, and has a slightly more savory taste. Peel the stalks lightly from the head down.

Asparagus also can be roasted or sauteed. For a quick party appetizer, wrap cooked spears in thin slices of prosciutto or smoked salmon.



In the market, look for asparagus with tightly closed tips.


To get rid of the tough ends, bend the asparagus to its natural breaking point, then snap the ends off.


Depending on how thick your asparagus is, peel the chunky part of the stalk for even cooking.


Steam in salted water just until tender, only a few minutes (cook pencil-thin asparagus for just 1 minute).

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