Asparagus is native to the eastern Mediterranean and Asia minor areas, where the vegetable grows wild. It can take quite a while, 3–4 years, to grow to an edible length, making asparagus something of a luxury vegetable. Most of the crop grown in the U.S. is green and purple; the same seed grown under a blanket of soil produces a mild, white variety that’s popular in Europe. Asparagus is delicious puréed in creamy soups, boiled or steamed until crisp-tender and topped with vinaigrette, chopped and baked into frittatas, or simply pan-seared with salt and pepper.
HOW TO BUY
When selecting asparagus, look for spears with compact heads, and firm, unwrinkled stalks. Thicker asparagus results from a later harvest and can be bitter and woody. Wrinkly, limp stalks mean the asparagus has been sitting on the shelf for too long.
HOW TO STORE
Treat asparagus like fresh flowers—store it upright in a vase or jar, roots immersed in two inches of water and tops loosely covered with an inverted ziploc bag. Since asparagus has a higher respiration rate (meaning shorter shelf life) than other vegetables, avoid storing it next to ethylene gas-releasing fruits like apples, apricots, melons, and figs.
HOW TO PREPARE
Holding the asparagus from the middle and the cut end, gently bend the stalk to determine its natural snapping point—that’s where you’ll want to snap or chop off the stem. If you have asparagus that is a little too thick, you can remove some of the tough outer layer with a vegetable peeler.