Recipes and tips for making of the most of asparagus season

Recipes and tips for making of the most of asparagus season

I admit that for much of my life I was ambivalent about green asparagus. Often, the spears I ate were stringy and thin. Sometimes they were downright tough. Then there was the aspara-pee. Not worth it, I thought.

A few months ago, I realized I probably hadn’t eaten the best spears. It dawned on me after I did a deep dive on asparagus. My story on this harbinger of spring explained how it is that this king of vegetables in California agriculture and seasonal delicacy exported worldwide is on the decline in the Golden State.

My research gave me the opportunity to taste the delicious spears from Firebaugh, Calif. The thick asparagus with nearly the circumference of a quarter possessed a meatier texture and unique earthy flavor. It tasted like spring. I’m now a convert.

It used to be that the vegetable was a seasonal delight — a staple of the Easter table. Its limited window of availability — from March to May in California — only added to its allure.

Now, we can get spears nearly all year. Still, I recommend buying and savoring the veggie when it’s freshest — spring.

Some might prefer the pencil-thin or half-inch spears. Personally, I’m partial to the big boys.

And now, I know what to look for when I’m at my local grocery store.

It’s important to pick fresh stalks. Pay close attention to the labels or stickers that tell you where it comes from. The freshest spears originate from farms closest to you.

One of the most common misconceptions is that the thinner the spear, the younger it is. Not true, said Chip Arnett, who operates Mister Spear, which buys premium California asparagus from the field and ships it to consumer homes overnight or within 48 hours.

Really thin asparagus is usually an indication that the plant it came from was tired or old and not strong enough to push anything big from the ground, Arnett said. It’s usually a sign of over-harvesting.

What else should you look for at your local grocery store and how to best store them? Here are some tips from Arnett, who ships jumbo asparagus to Martha Stewart every spring.

  • Avoid limp or wilted asparagus stalks.
  • Stay away from spindly asparagus spears, especially those beginning to flower in the tips.
  • Look for a tight and close-braided tip — a sign of freshness. Tips that appear to have spread indicate that the asparagus has been sitting around for quite some time.
  • You want at least 8 inches of green color on the spear. Avoid stalks that are dull in color, an indicator that it’s likely past its prime.
  • As soon as you get home with your fresh spears, set them in a glass of water so that the ends are covered, as if they were flowers.

Before it becomes a ghost of spring, here are some recipes for one of my favorite edible perennials.

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Steamed Asparagus With Brown Butter Sauce

The buttery asparagus by Russ Parsons, former L.A. Times food editor, is divine and simple to prepare. Topped with the brown butter and minced herbs, you really can’t go wrong. You’ll want some medium to jumbo spears for this dish. Asparagus can be difficult to pair with wine, but I discovered perfection when partnered with Ulloa Cellars 2022 Grüner Veltliner.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 45 minutes

Steamed asparagus with brown butter sauce.

(Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times)

Orange And Mustard-Marinated Asparagus

Marinating asparagus is a delicious way to prepare this spring delicacy, said Lukas Volger, a cookbook author. It’s best when the veggie is super fresh but can also be delightful for stalks that aren’t necessarily at their peak.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 30 minutes

Orange and Mustard Marinated Asparagus from the book "Snacks for Dinner" by Lukas Volger

Steak And Asparagus ‘Sauté-Fry’ With Dijon-Sesame Dressing

Llooking for a laidback weeknight meal? Ben Mims, former L.A. Times food columnist, suggests slicing meat and mixing it in with lightly charred asparagus before topping it with mustard sauce spiked with sesame oil.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 30 minutes

Meat and asparagus on a plate.

(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Asparagus With Egg and Anchovy

Asparagus and eggs? Yes, please. Betty Hallock, our deputy food editor, and Donna Deane, former test kitchen director, urge readers to pick spears of the same size so they reach the right tenderness in the same amount of time. Watch the clock, because you want just-tender spears — not limp ones.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 25 minutes

122212.FO.0328.food15.GEM Easter sides -- asparagus spears with chopped egg and anchovy.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)