Spring's crown jewel is asparagus. As soon as the calendar changes to April, you can bet there's an overabundance of these green stalks at every stand at the farmers' market, weather permitting. Whether you love asparagus and you're looking for new ways to dish it up or you just don't know what to do with it, Yummly can be your asparagus cooking guide…

Tips For Buying Asparagus

We all know that fresh vegetables are best, but that's particularly important to know when it comes to asparagus. While you can buy it year-round, that's not necessarily a good thing. If you can buy asparagus in January in Michigan, that means it's traveled far and wide to get there. While that's OK for citrus fruits or avocados because they continue to ripen off the vine, asparagus starts to deteriorate fairly quickly after harvest. That said, most of the asparagus harvested in the United States comes from California and even there, it has a limited time for harvest — asparagus season in California is from February until June and it should be eaten as close to its harvest time as possible.

What To Look For

You have to examine your asparagus fairly closely if you want the best flavors. The most important thing to know is that the best tasting asparagus should not look dry at all. The leaves at the top of the stalk should still look closed and attached. If the leaves have separated from the stalk, it will taste a bit more woody and fibrous than fresh asparagus. While asparagus doesn't typically come with an expiration date, it doesn't really "go bad," rather it gets dry and woody. If asparagus is your favorite vegetable, you'll enjoy it more if it's fresh.

Cleaning And Cutting Asparagus

The outer layer of asparagus doesn't bother some people. For others, it may be unpleasantly woody. In that case, to tenderize asparagus, you can use a vegetable peeler to shave off the outer layer of the stalk starting from the lowest leaves and working your way down. Then cut 1 1/2 inches off the woody ends before cooking. It should yield a tender stalk.

Storing Fresh Asparagus

Asparagus is thirsty. If you're not ready to cook your asparagus right away, cut off the ends and stick them in a glass of water to keep them hydrated. When you're ready to cook them, wash the asparagus and pat them dry for the best results.

Tips For Cooking Asparagus

There are a few basic ways to cook asparagus. Here are a few tips to do it well.

Roasting Asparagus

To roast asparagus, medium-high heat is required — about 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Like with most other roasted vegetables, they should be spread on a cookie sheet in a single layer. They're best with a generous drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt, but kosher salt or table salt is fine, just be careful not to over salt them. They should be ready to serve in about 10 minutes. To elevate the oven roasted asparagus, a squeeze of lemon juice is a simple flavoring that goes a long way. However, a dusting of parmesan cheese with black pepper is another option.

Asparagus Wraps

People love to wrap asparagus spears in cured meats before roasting them. For prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, this is best done under the high heat of a broiler for about three minutes on each side. Bacon-wrapped asparagus is a little different because unlike prosciutto, bacon needs to be really cooked, not just heated. These are best wrapped with bacon and baked on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper at 400 degrees Fahrenheit on each side for about eight minutes.

Blanch And Shock Asparagus

Asparagus spears are a favorite spring party snack for dipping. The best way to showcase spring's finest spears is by blanching and shocking them. Blanching is just dipping the stalks in boiling water (just a few seconds) until they become a bright green and then shocking them in a bowl of ice water. This gets them tender and makes them more appealing (and tasty) than crudite. Alternatively, you can steam your asparagus; that works best for the skinny stalks rather than the thick stalks.

Grilling Asparagus

Grilled asparagus is one of the best ways to serve asparagus! However, it's complicated when you're grilling skinny stalks on a grate. If you're afraid of losing your asparagus to the fire below, there are a couple of solutions. You can use a grill pan or you can drizzle them with olive oil, put them in envelopes made out of aluminum foil and throw those on the grill with a cook time of about two to three minutes. This, for all intents and purposes, steams the stalks and it's an excellent way to eat them.

Asparagus Flavor Pairings

Whether you want to make baked asparagus or you're looking for a great roasted asparagus recipe, it makes a great side dish for a low-calorie diet. However, while it pairs well with other healthy foods, the list of what you can pair asparagus with is almost endless. Because asparagus is both bitter and sweet, it goes well with soft, fresh cheese. Goat cheese is a favorite, so you'll see the two together in tarts, frittatas, and omelets, but goat cheese can also be crumbled on top of a bundle of spears with ground black pepper. It also does well with garlic, parmesan, and mushrooms for dishes like risotto -- the umami from the parmesan and mushrooms tames the bitterness of our favorite spring vegetable. If you want to try something with Asian leanings, asparagus is good stir-fried with ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and soy sauce. For a classic pairing, try asparagus blanched and dipped in hollandaise sauce -- the lemon juice and butter brings out the best spring brightness in the asparagus. A simple version of that would be to mix mayonnaise with lemon juice and garlic to make a lemon aioli for dipping if you don't have time to make hollandaise. Asparagus also does really well in creamy pasta dishes. It cuts the dairy a bit and adds a freshness in otherwise heavy or rich dishes. As for protein, asparagus goes best with salmon, chicken, and ham.

Asparagus is enjoyed for a very short time, and at Yummly we have the recipes to help you bring out its best flavors. Whether you want to whir it into a soup or work it into a casserole, there are thousands of asparagus recipes to choose from.

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