How to cook asparagus this summer

Do you know how to cook asparagus? A luxury item at any other time of the year, for a few short weeks in the summer it is certainly a vegetable not to be missed!

Who knows, if you haven't tried it before, it might even end up as a favourite, like it did for Louis XIV.

The normal asparagus available in the shops is the green variety, but it also comes in white or purple.

Green asparagus is high in vitamins A and C, along with folic acid. Throw in the fact that it is low in calories, contains no fat or cholesterol, and is full of fiber, this makes it great for heart-healthy recipes.

Asparagus can be served as an accompaniment, a soup, a first course, with salads or combined with other ingredients in main courses. 

A very versatile vegetable indeed! Add don't forget that it is delicious served hot, warm or cold

Ready to roast

Buying Asparagus

When shopping for this vegetable look for tightly pointed tips, which are purplish in colour, and which haven't started to open out. The tips should be firm, not soft.

The spear should be smooth, straight and firm. Hold the bunch to your nose and sniff it, it should not smell strongly; if it does, then it is not as fresh as it could be.

Allow for 6-8 spears per person when serving as a separate course.

White asparagus

Once you have made your purchase and brought it home, keep it loosely wrapped in a paper bag while you decide how to cook it. Cook and eat and soon as possible, or blanch it and freeze for use later in the year.

How to prepare asparagus

Start by washing gently under running water to remove any sand or dirt, then trim or snap off the woody ends of the spears. Cutting this end into a point, by making slanted cuts at the bottom of the spear on two sides to thin it out, will help to make the tips and spear cook in the same amount of time. You may also wish to peel the thicker stems. Start removing the outer skin about 1.5 inches below the tips, down to the base.

With a small, sharp knife or an Asparagus peeler trim off the pointy bits from the spear so that no sand can stay trapped underneath them.

If you are boiling or steaming the asparagus you can put several spears together and tie them into a bundle. If they are to be grilled or broiled, keep them separate.

That's the preparation done! You are now ready to learn how to cook asparagus.

Basic Methods of cooking fresh asparagus

How to steam asparagus

Let's start learning how to steam asparagus in the traditional way. You will need a small diameter pan, so that the bundle remains upright.

Amazon offer a number of Stainless Steel asparagus steamers that do the job perfectly. They normally contain a wire basket, which holds the vegetables and enables you to take them out easily once they are cooked.

Bring the pan of salted water to the boil. Plunge the bundle of asparagus into the water with the tips uppermost. The tips should extend above the water. Pop on the lid. This will boil the spears while the tips will steam until tender. Cook for about 5-8 minutes.

If you don't have an asparagus steamer you can put the asparagus into a pan of water, wide enough to hold the asparagus without bending it. Bring the water to the boil, and then cook the spears for about 7-10 minutes, depending on how firm you like them.

Serve with melted butter or a hollandaise sauce.

Roasted asparagus (with red onion, garlic and cheese)

Peel and chop a small red onion into small cubes.

Peel and chop two cloves of garlic. 

Grate as much cheddar cheese as you fancy on your asparagus. 

Prepare the asparagus spears as above.

Lay the aspargus on an ovenproof tray, and sprinkle with the onions, garlic and cheese. Grind some sea salt over the dish and drizzle with oil. 

Roast in a hot oven (200oC) for 7-10 minutes. 

This couldn't be simpler, but is so delicious!

Stir fried or Chinese style

You can slice the spears diagonally into pieces around half an inch long (keep the tips whole) and fry them. Heat enough butter to cover the bottom of a frying pan (skillet) then add the pieces and season with salt and pepper. When steam begins to rise from the pan, pop on the lid, lower the heat and cook for about 4 minutes until tender crisp.

How to cook asparagus under the grill

Grilling (or broiling) asparagus is a wonderful way to cook it. You can also use the same general technique to cook it over a barbecue.

Turn the grill on to heat up, while you prepare the vegetables. Lay them in the grill pan or a flat, shallow dish. Drizzle with oil, and sprinkle salt on top. Pop under the grill (or on top of the barbecue) and keep turning them as they cook. They will take about 5 minutes. Don't worry if they start to turn brown in places, that is just the natural sugars beginning to caramelize.

You can also wrap a rasher of bacon around each spear before grilling it.

Grilled asparagus can be used in salads, popped in a tortilla wrap or even used to dip into soft boiled eggs.

Grilled asparagus served with Lemon Sole

How to cook asparagus in the microwave

Lay the prepared spears in a microwavable dish, with the tips towards the centre. Pour on a quarter of a pint of water (about 1/2 cup). Then cover with a lid or cling film.

Microwave on high for 6-7 minutes then turn the spears over and pop back in for a further 6-7 minutes.

Leave to stand, without removing the lid for about 5 minutes. Open the lid, back edge first to let the steam escape without scalding yourself, and serve.

Get cooking

Now you know how to cook asparagus don't let the season go past without trying it for yourself! 

Check out these exciting, but simple, recipes for asparagus that you can cook for yourself, or for a dinner party starter.

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