Luscious, bright green asparagus is one of the age-old rites of spring, even though year-round availability has made its appearance less exceptional. Even so, there’s something undeniably special about the fresh, tender juiciness of first-of-the-season asparagus. Asparagus is a fragile vegetable that damages easily and loses moisture quickly. Its sweetness slowly fades once harvested, so it’s best eaten as soon as possible.
Green asparagus is most common in the US, although both purple and white varieties are increasingly found in specialty markets. White asparagus is grown in deep soil trenches or black plastic tunnels to protect the shoots from sunlight, which prevents the photosynthesis that turns it green. White asparagus is prized in Europe for its delicate flavor and texture. Purple asparagus is pretty to look at; it turns greener when cooked and has the same flavor profile as its green cousin.
Why choose organic asparagus?
- When you can, choose organic asparagus to help keep synthetic chemicals out of your diet. At Earthbound Farm, we grow our organic asparagus without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, using methods that build healthy soil and protect our air and water. Organic food is the healthiest choice for people and the planet — and we think organic apples taste better, too!
- WhatsOnMyFood.org from the Pesticide Action Network shows you searchable results for vegetables like asparagus and a wide range of other organic and conventional foods. It’s an easy-to-use and empowering tool for learning about pesticide residues and their health effects for all of us.
How to select and store asparagus
- In the store, gently squeeze the bunch of asparagus — if it squeaks, it’s fresh. Closely inspect the stem ends and avoid bunches with split or dried ends. Tips should be clean and tightly furled, and stalks should be firm and crisp.
- Avoid shriveled, slimy or smelly asparagus, all sure signs that it’s past its prime. Likewise, if the woody bottom ends of the stalks exceed 15% of the total length of the spears, the plant has been harvested late in the season and the asparagus is likely to be tough.
- The thickness of asparagus stalks, however, is not an indicator of tenderness — younger plants produce larger shoots, so often jumbo stalks are more tender and succulent than their pencil-thin counterparts. Select asparagus spears of similar size (thickness) so they’ll cook in the same length of time.
- Once home, use your asparagus as quickly as possible; asparagus begins to lose its natural sugars once picked. If you must store it, cut off the bottom inch of the stalks, wrap the freshly cut stems in a wet paper towel, and place the asparagus in a plastic bag. It should last in the refrigerator up to 3 days. To prolong its shelf life, you can stand asparagus upright (cut end down) in about an inch of water, and cover it with a plastic bag to retain moisture.
Tips for using asparagus
- To prepare asparagus, bend each stalk near the woody stem end to find the natural breaking point. Alternately, you can cut off the bottom inch or so with a sharp knife.
- Peeling the bottom half of your asparagus can be worth the effort, and it’s not difficult if you have a good-quality vegetable peeler. The advantage to peeling is that you remove tough skin which can sometimes be bitter, and you also reduce cooking time, so the tender tips don’t overcook. Note that white asparagus must always be peeled.
- Asparagus can be boiled, steamed, microwaved, roasted or grilled. Whichever method you choose, be careful not to overcook the spears. To preserve asparagus’ bright green color and stop the cooking process, after boiling or steaming the spears, plunge them into a bowl of ice water and swish around until they cool. Drain well and dry with a paper towel. If you’re serving the vegetable hot, place the asparagus in a skillet with a pat of butter and gently reheat for a minute or two just before serving.