Fresh asparagus lovers know all too well that the season for enjoying the best of this vegetable is very short. Although modern agricultural techniques have extended the growing period, it still isn't long enough for enthusiasts to get truly satiated.
Sharp eyes watch as fresh asparagus prices begin to edge downward. As soon as the budget won't break, bundles of the flavorful green spears become a regular item in shopping carts for as long as supplies last.
Those in the know select stalks that are straight, have good green color and appear fresh and crisp. Tips should be well formed and tightly closed.
The fresher the asparagus, the better the taste--so enjoy it as soon as possible after purchase. If storage is necessary, wrap bases of the stalks in damp paper towels and then refrigerate only a day or two.
To prepare asparagus for cooking, break off the stalks as far down as they will snap easily. There is some debate over whether spears should be peeled--many believe the outer flesh is hard to digest. Those who advocate peeling recommend stopping at least an inch from the tips.
Rinse asparagus in cold water to remove any sand or grit. Then blanch, steam or saute just until tender. Since the vegetable tastes equally wonderful hot, at room temperature or chilled, true asparagus lovers will no doubt enjoy it first simply freshly cooked with drawn butter.
As the days and weeks pass, they may move on to serving the vegetable with Hollandaise sauce, vinaigrette dressing or mayonnaise. Later they will sprinkle the stalks lightly with Parmesan cheese and run under the broiler, add pieces to salads and begin to incorporate the spears into a variety of other recipes.