I’ve been served asparagus so soft and limp it seemed to come out of a can. What a waste of a fresh springtime treat!
Cook asparagus briefly and check often to be sure it retains a little crunch. Some insist on tying asparagus in bundles or steaming it in an asparagus cooker but you don’t have to.
The most practical technique is to handle the spears like other green vegetables: Boil them briefly in salted water, then rinse them with cold water if you’re not eating them right away. This stops the cooking process and keeps their color vivid.
Pencil-thin asparagus stalks do not require peeling, but I find that thicker ones are often more flavorful. I usually peel the lower part so it will be as tender as the top.
To peel asparagus, lay it on a work surface, peel it from halfway down the spear toward the base, turn it and peel it again. (If you hold the stalk in the air like a cucumber, it might break during peeling.)
Don’t throw the bases and peelings away. Cook them in water with carrot and onion trimmings for 30 minutes, and you’ll get a savory vegetable broth.
Choose asparagus that’s firm but not dried out, with compact, closed tips. Remove any rubber bands and refrigerate the vegetable unwashed in a plastic bag up to three days.
Wrapping the bases in damp paper towels helps keep the asparagus fresh.
Faye Levy is author of the James Beard Award winner, “Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook” (Warner, 1993).