One sure sign of spring is fresh asparagus in the produce aisle. Fat or thin; green, purple, or white; the keys to delicious asparagus are freshness and proper preparation. The plant brings a delicately bright flavor, and notes of subtle acidity, to any dish.
In Season: Asparagus is at its peak from February through June, though hothouse asparagus is available year-round in some areas.
What to Look For: Thickness is a matter of taste. Choose bunches with tightly closed tips and no flowering. Stalks should be bright green and firm (or pale ivory for white asparagus).
How to Store: Asparagus is best cooked the day it's purchased, but it can be kept in the refrigerator for up to five days in one of the following ways: Wrap the bottoms of the stalks in a damp paper towel and place in a paper bag; store in crisper. Or stand the bundled stalks in a bowl with about an inch of water.
Homemade Parmesan breadcrumbs add a savory crunch to this asparagus side dish. No need to cook the asparagus or toast the breadcrumbs beforehand; simply arrange the asparagus in an ovenproof serving dish, sprinkle with fresh breadcrumbs, and bake everything at once.
This easy dinner can be on the table in just 15 minutes -- quicker than Chinese food delivery. Thinly sliced New York strip steak is stir-fried with asparagus, snap peas, ginger, and basil, then a sweet soy sauce and rice-wine vinegar mixture is added at the end of cooking.
These bundles of chicken, asparagus spears, sliced tomatoes, and cheese are dressy enough for a dinner party but quick and easy enough for a weeknight. To make chicken breasts thin enough to roll, split each one in half horizontally and pound between sheets of plastic wrap.
To make this vegetable antipasto from Mario Batali, wrap fat asparagus spears in pancetta before searing on the grill. Drizzle them with citronette -- vinaigrette made with orange juice and zest, Dijon mustard, and extra-virgin olive oil -- and sprinkle with fresh thyme before serving.
For this easy one-pan dinner, a whole cut-up chicken is roasted along with asparagus, new potatoes, lemon wedges, and thyme sprigs. The whole meal can be assembled in just 10 minutes, and then put in the oven for an hour, until the chicken and potatoes are nicely browned.
The classic pairing of asparagus and hollandaise is a lot easier thanks to our shortcut version of the lemony sauce. (The secret: It's made in blender instead of a double boiler.) Pour it over crisp-tender asparagus and serve as part of a special dinner or brunch.