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Europe’s asparagus season is almost over for another year.  It seems such a short time during which to enjoy this wonderful delicacy.  Of course, thanks to air freight, we can enjoy fresh asparagus throughout the year, but there’s nothing quite like home grown.

Over the past 20 years I have seen and read a bewildering array of hints and tips regarding asparagus.  Below are mine, which have stood me in good stead season after season.

You might also find the horticultural information and photos on the Wikipedia page helpful.

1/ Choose bunches with thin stems and tightly closed tips. Thin stems, where you can get them, are more tender than thick ones.

2/ Ensure the base of the stems are still plump without vertical ridges. Those ridges indicate the stems are beginning to age.

3/ Make sure that you take the asparagus home with the tips facing upwards so they won’t be damaged.  Once at home, you can store them carefully lying horizontally, provided you are going to use them within the next day or two.  Do not rest anything on top of them or damage the tips.  If you don’t have room in your vegetable crisper, they will keep satisfactorily on a refrigerator shelf.

4/ When you are ready to cook them, there is no need to guess where to trim with regard to where the stalky, chewy part starts.  Hold a spear in both hands, near the bottom of the stem (not the tip).  Gently bend the stem near the end.  The stalk will snap in a natural position between the tender and tough portions of the stemYou shouldn’t need to trim them as they break evenly. Repeat this process individually for each stalk.

5/ Lay the stems in a shallow pan which comes with a lid.  Fill the bottom of the pan with just enough water to meet the spears halfway up. It is not necessary to cook them standing up. Put the lid on the pan and cook over medium heat for three to five minutes.

6/ To check for doneness, carefully and gently pierce the base of one or two of the spears with the sharp tip of a knife.  If they seem undercooked, replace the lid and check back in another minute or two. They should be al dente — holding their shape and not at all limp.

7/ When done, drain immediately and top with a knob of butter and salt.  Garlic salt works really well, adding just an extra touch of flavour.  Put the pan back on the stovetop but with no heat.  At this point, you just want to keep them warm.

8/ Neatly arrange the spears on the plate with tips facing in the same direction.  Kitchen tongs are quite useful for this, as they will also release any excess water.

9/ If you can, put a tablespoon of hollandaise sauce on the middle portion of the spears.

10/ It is acceptable — and preferred — to eat asparagus with one’s fingers.  Pick them up one at a time from the base of the spear and eat, starting with the tip.  This might not always be possible, however, depending on the sauce or presentation on the plate.

Asparagus really isn’t complicated and can be quite simple.  I’ve made a lot of mistakes so that you don’t have to!  Eat and enjoy.  The season is all too brief!

(Photoshop credit to Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod — many thanks!)

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