How to prepare asparagus

Not sure how to deal with this tasty vegetable? It's a lot easier than you might think.

By Moira Adams

Plate of asparagus

Asparagus is one of my all-time favorite vegetables. Not only does it have a lovely creamy flavor, it is also very healthy. It is a great source of vitamins, calcium and other good stuff, and it's admirably free of cholesterol.

So why is "the noble stalk" such a stranger to our dinner tables? One reason that people don't buy it more often is that they don't know how to prepare it. That's a pity, because cooking asparagus is not at all difficult.

There are several ways of going about it. Just choose the method that best suits your schedule and the equipment to hand. All of them will produce excellent results.

First steps

Start by cutting off and discarding the coarse woody ends of the asparagus stalks. Then, using a vegetable peeler, cut away any blemishes. Wash the stalks thoroughly in warm-ish water.

The serious option

All-Clad Steamer

If you fancy yourself as a serious asparagus cook, you might decide to invest in a special asparagus steamer. I recently bought an All-Clad Stainless Asparagus Pot like the one shown here, and I am absolutely delighted with it. As well as being an excellent tool for its intended purpose, it does extra duty as a general-purpose boiler and steamer. It also looks great, even in my humble kitchen.

To use the All-Clad, or a similar type of pot, just place some salted water at the bottom of the pan and bring it the boil. Stand the asparagus spears upright in the wire basket and lower it into the water. The idea is that the stalks will be closer to the boiling water than the crowns, and this compensates for the fact they take slightly longer to cook. After 15 minutes or so (depending on the type and quality of the asparagus), the vegetables should be lovely and tender.

And a not so serious one

Despite my enthusiasm for the All-Clad pot, I have to admit that not everyone will be able to justify the cost -- or the shelf space for a special asparagus cooker. No matter. You can achieve similar results with a conventional saucepan though it's best to use one that's tall enough to allow the spears to stand upright. The trick is to tie the spears into a bundle so that the lower stalks are immersed in the boiling water while the crowns gently steam higher in the pan. As before, allow around 15 minutes or so for the veggies to cook.

But even that simple method will be too much trouble for many busy cooks. After all, not everyone wants to faff around looking for string and tying vegetables into bundles.

Another easy way

So here's another easy way of doing the job. First, cut the asparagus into lengths of about one inch (2.5 cm). Putting the crowns to one side, drop the rest of the pieces into a pan of boiling salted water. Wait five minutes, then add the crowns. Cook for a further five to ten minutes or until the asparagus is tender. Again, the point is to let the stems cook for about five minutes longer than the crowns.

Microwave or roast

You can also cook asparagus in a microwave. Cut the stalks into small lengths, place them in a covered non-metallic container, and cook on full power for five to ten minutes. As I said earlier, cooking times will vary, so check that the spears are nice and soft before you serve. And, as with the other methods, you'll get better results if you let the lower parts of the stalks cook for a little longer than the crowns.

Finally, why not try roasting asparagus? This takes a little longer, but it is just as straightforward. Simply place the spears in a large roasting or baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil, and cook in a pre-heated oven (400F, 200C) for about 25 minutes.

Whichever method you choose, I guarantee you will enjoy the finished product.

November 2004

Please note: Neither Veg World nor its contributors are qualified to give medical or nutritional advice. If in doubt, always consult a suitably-qualified professional.

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