Cooking School – Asparagus

By / Food / June 2nd, 2009 / 1

People often have a love-hate relationship with these spears. They’re mushy and slimy if overcooked, and wine pairing can be tricky at best. Whatever your feelings about asparagus, grab a few bunches and celebrate because their season is short, and they won’t last long. Check out these tips for scrumptious ways of enjoying this spring treat.

The Varieties

Asparagus comes in three colours: green, white and purple. Each type varies in flavour, how it’s grown and when it’s harvested. The difference in colour and flavour is great news for cooks who like to shake things up a bit at the dinner table.

Green asparagus is the most readily available. It’s grown in full sun (hence why it’s green) and has a subtle nutty flavour. White asparagus is now easier to find than it was years back. It’s grown underneath a mound of dirt that protects it from the sun’s rays. Once the stalks break through the surface of the mounds, they’re harvested. White asparagus has a very delicate flavour in comparison to the other two.

Purple asparagus begins its life underground, but then is allowed to grow approximately 3 inches above the surface before it is harvested. Exposure to sunlight causes the asparagus to begin changing colour. When it turns purple, just before turning green, it’s harvested. Purple asparagus is somewhat more strongly flavoured than white asparagus.

Caring For Your Asparagus Bunch

Keep fresh asparagus clean, cold and well wrapped. Trim the stem end about 1/4 inch and rinse the stalks several times. Pat dry, wrap them in a piece of paper towel and place in a plastic bag. Refrigerate and use within 2 or 3 days.

If you’ve been lucky enough to pick up a bushel load of asparagus, freezing the lot might be something to consider. Once you’ve washed the asparagus, trim the stem ends. Blanch them in boiling water for up to 2 minutes. Cool them immediately in ice water. Drain well and pack in plastic freezer bags. Use within eight months. Don’t defrost them when you’re ready to use them. Just drop them directly into your favourite asparagus recipe.

How To Cook Asparagus

Actually, you don’t have to cook asparagus at all. Just rinse it well and serve cold with a dip. Or, sprinkle chopped or shredded stalks into an omelet. Cooking asparagus doesn’t require special tools. If you eat asparagus often, consider buying an asparagus steamer. Otherwise, take a look at the tips below for other ways of getting the most from this vegetable.


Simmer or steam fresh asparagus in a small amount of salted, boiling water until tender. Fresh asparagus will be crisp-tender in 5 to 8 minutes.


Cut spears diagonally into 1/2 inch pieces. Make sure to leave the tips whole. Stir-fry the pieces for 3 to 5 minutes in butter or oil at medium high heat.


Thread fresh asparagus spears onto 6-inch long skewers. Place them directly on the grill, and cook for 5 to 8 minutes. Slide them off the skewers onto a serving plate and dress with extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt. Serve hot or cold.


Place asparagus into a microwavable baking dish. Add about 1/4 cup water and cover tightly. Microwave at 100% power for 4 to 7 minutes for spears, 3 to 5 minutes for cuts and tips. Stir halfway through cooking time.

Should asparagus be peeled?

The answer is yes and no. Some people prefer the even colouring of peeled asparagus; others prefer it in its natural state. Enjoy it any way you’d like.

Wine Pairing

Asparagus, like spinach and artichokes, has a natural acidity that can wreak havoc on wine. Choose a crisp, fruity white wine with little to no sweetness such as sparkling wine, Grüner Veltliner, Verdicchio or Pinot Grigio.


Rosemary Mantini has always loved words. When she isn't working as the Associate Editor at Tidings Magazine, she's helping others achieve their writing dreams, and sometimes she even relaxes with a good book and a glass of wine.

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