To an asparagus lover, spring isn't about romance or flowers. It's when the first perfect young stalks of asparagus appear in the market. Select spears that are skinny (they're more tender) and firm. Asparagus is best eaten the day it's bought, but if you must refrigerate it, wrap the stem ends in damp paper towels, seal in an airtight plastic bag, and leave it in the crisper for no more than three days. When you're ready to cook, snap off the toughest end of the stems -- they break naturally where the toughness stops. Peel the skin from the bottom third of any thick stalks, and bind the bundle with kitchen string. A good way to cook asparagus is to stand it on end in a few inches of water. Boil water in a small saucepan, add the asparagus, and invert another saucepan over the top for a lid. Cook until the stalks are barely tender.



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