Available all year-round, few imported varieties measure up to the freshness of home-grown British asparagus. Visit a farm and pick your own to best appreciate its delicacy. Freshly cut and cooked asparagus is particularly flavoursome and far superior to those sold in supermarkets.
WHAT TO BUY
Asparagus comes in shades of green and is often tinged with purple, especially at the tips. Most of our asparagus sold in shops, comes from Suffolk, although fine-quality stems are also grown in the Cotswolds.
White asparagus is grown under the soil, like a root. It's picked just as the tips appear above the ground. Although the flavour is mild, sometimes the stalks have a tendency to be a little tough. Holland is a big exporter of white asparagus.
Sprue, thin-stemmed asparagus, should be cooked and eaten as soon as you can after picking. It's great when stir-fried or treated to quick cooking methods
The best accompaniments are the most simple - classic partners include melted butter or hollandaise with warm stems, and lemony vinaigrette with cold asparagus.
IN THE KITCHEN
To prepare asparagus - if the ends are woody, snap off the ends before cooking. If the asparagus is quite mature, you might need to pare away some of the tougher skin near the base too - white asparagus often benefits from paring with a sharp vegetable knife.
Asparagus steamers used to be an important part of a serious cook's kitchen equipment. Today, most people prefer to cook the stems in a wide pan, filled with water. The trick is in not overcooking them which makes the stems soggy.
The best way to cook asparagus is to drop the stems into a large pan, filled with lightly salted boiling water and blanch for a few minutes, depending on the thickness of the stems. As soon as they are tender but still have bite, drain and serve straight away. If you're serving them cold, it's an idea to refresh them in cold running water to fix the colour.
When char-grilling broad stems, blanch them for a minute in fast boiling water and then cook over a hot griddle with a dash of olive oil. The quicker they cook, the better they taste.
Traditionally, asparagus stems (if they're served on their own), are eaten with the hands. Keep finger bowls at the ready for cleaning up afterwards.
Other ingredients that work well include, buffalo mozzarella cheese, pastry, Parmesan cheese, eggs, new potatoes, lemon, tarragon, sea trout and grilled fish.