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Asparagus: How to choose and prepare

SPRING FRESH: Fat, juicy jumbo asparagus are available for a brief period in the spring.
SPRING FRESH: Fat, juicy jumbo asparagus are available for a brief period in the spring.
(Luis Sinco, Los Angeles Times)

Asparagus, once a reliable harbinger of spring, is pretty much a year-round presence at Southern California farmers markets these days thanks to a peculiarly mild microclimate outside of Lompoc.

But we still only get fat, juicy jumbo asparagus for a brief period in the spring.

The best come from Zuckerman Farms, asparagus growers in the Sacramento delta for generations. Jumbo asparagus, as big around as a nickel and sometimes even a quarter, can come from the same plant as the pencil-thin asparagus.

The diameter is a reflection of the health, or vigor, of the plant. And though asparagus will bear all year round, it’s only in the early spring when the plant starts shooting up these spears fattened by a winter’s worth of saved energy.

Fat spears do need to be peeled, while thin spears do not. But because there is so much meat to them, it’s worth the extra chore. And it’s also worth it to serve them whole, so you can enjoy their rich flavor and succulent texture.

Cook them thoroughly--either steaming or boiling--but don’t overcook them. They’re done when the color is still bright green, but the tip sags when you pick a spear up by its base.


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