There’s nothing like asparagus that has been picked within hours of cooking. They are so sweet and juicy. Asparagus is at its best right after picking, because the sugars start converting into starches, and the longer it sits around, it loses flavor and toughens. Which is why we started an asparagus patch years ago. Growing asparagus is a bit of an investment, in time (the plants start producing two years after planting) and space (the patch will be fallow from July to April). But so worth it.
I never know how many I’ll find. On a good day, a dozen, on an average day a few.
The spears range from thick to thin, and I’ve observed no rhyme or reason why. I like the thicker ones because they are juicier and meatier. But the thin ones have their own concentrated flavor.
The way I cook them is like this: First, peel the bottom third of the stems. I don’t snap or cut the ends off because the asparagus are so fresh and the stems aren’t woody. If you’re buying them in the store, cut off the woody ends rather than snap them. You’ll get more edible asparagus. Peeling the lower third is essential. You can save the peelings, adding them to a bag in the freezer to make stock for asparagus soup.
I cook them in a large stainless steel saute pan, wide enough so I can lay the spears in the pan. Saute a clove of garlic in olive oil. Add the asparagus, and over high heat, saute them in the oil, sprinkle with salt, then add a little water and cover. Cook until tender. I like my asparagus cooked. Neither crunchy nor mushy.
To serve, spoon the garlicy, aparagus-y, oil from pan over the asparagus. Squirt with lemon or lime, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then eat the spears with your fingers.
A friend asked for a Vegan Asparagus Soup. I’m not vegan, but I enjoyed the challenge. It turned out to be absolutely delicious. This is how I made it. By the end of the season, I had a big bag of asparagus peels. I simmered them in a pot of water with a few wild onion bulbs and salt. Then I turned the asparagus stock into a vegan béchamel, using olive oil in the roux instead of butter.
Two dozen fresh, cooked asparagus met their fate in a food mill. Remember to save some asparagus tips to garnish the soup.
It produced a lovely bright green puree.
Added this to the asparagus béchamel. Corrected the seasonings with salt, pepper, and fresh lemon juice (I used lime cause that’s what’s usually in the house.)
Ladle into bowls, garnish with minced chives, chive blossoms, and the tops of asparagus spears.
We savored every spoonful.