The most common asparagus is green, but there are other colours. White asparagus is grown underground (therefore does not photosynthesise) and is very popular in Europe. Purple asparagus, high in sugar and low in fibre, is not readily available here despite being cultivated in New Zealand.
Look for bright green and firm spears with tight tips. While thin asparagus has a more delicate flavour, thicker spears are more robust. White asparagus should always be thick.
Asparagus should be eaten soon after buying. Wrap the ends of the stalks in damp paper towel, place in a plastic bag and store in the vegetable crisper. Asparagus freezes well, but blanch first to retain colour and flavour.
Snap off the woody bottoms. If you prefer asparagus peeled, use a paring knife or a vegie peeler to remove the skin below the tip to the base.
5 quick ways with asparagus
Serve raw or blanched asparagus spears as crudités alongside carrot and celery sticks to enjoy your favourite dip.
Boil trimmed asparagus in salted water for three minutes. Refresh in cold water, then wrap spears in pancetta. Brush with olive oil and then cook on a hot griddle until pancetta is crispy.
Dress up a simple salad with steamed asparagus. To top it off, drizzle with a little aged balsamic vinegar and add a few curls of parmesan cheese. Add pepper to taste.
Make a basic risotto: start by frying shallots, stir in a cup of arborio rice and, when pearly white, and ladle by ladle, add a litre of warm vegetable stock. After 15 minutes, add blanched asparagus spears and 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese and cover for five minutes. Lemon zest will add extra zing.
Asparagus makes a delicious accompaniment to a chicken and cashew stir-fry. Cut spears diagonally, then add to the wok when the chicken is cooked. Stir for about three minutes.