How to prepare Asparagus
by Charlie Burke

One of the most eagerly anticipated early crops in New England
is asparagus. Prior to its year-round availability in supermarkets,
fresh local asparagus used to be a welcome sign of spring and
of the coming bounty from local growers.  

As efforts encouraging restaurants and consumers to "buy fresh,
buy local" gain momentum in Maine, New Hampshire and
Vermont, let's plan to go to a  local farm or farmers' market
and take advantage of native asparagus.  

The taste and freshness are worth the effort!

How to Cook Asparagus

In preparing asparagus, less is more: there is no need to
tie the stalks together, use an asparagus cooker or stand them upright. A large
straight sided frying pan is ideal because you can closely monitor the quick
cooking process.

For side dish proportions, plan 1/2 pound per person. Simply bring two to
three inches of water to a rapid boil and add two tablespoons of salt. Add the
spears of asparagus (if some are notably thicker than others, add them a  minute
or so before the others).

Remember, uncooked asparagus is delicious, so very short cooking times are
needed. Over-cooking yields a soft tasteless result. You will notice the stalks
turn a more vivid  green shortly after they are added to the boiling water. I like
to use  chef's tongs to check progress.  

When the spears begin to lose their  rigidity and bend slightly when shaken they
are done. Drain them  thoroughly. Serve immediately! (If you prefer to serve the
asparagus at room temperature, run it under cold water after draining to
prevent over-cooking.)

Serving Suggestions

*
Toss with extra virgin olive oil and a small amount of lemon juice and add
freshly ground pepper and salt to taste. If butter is preferred, skip the lemon
juice.

*Another interesting flavor combination results from tossing with dark sesame
oil and sesame seeds; sesame oil has an intense flavor, so  little is required.   
Either of the above oil preparations could be used at serving time, or substitute
your favorite salad dressing

Enjoy New England's bounty!

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charles Burke is the vice
president of the New Hampshire Farmer’s Market Association (
www.nhfma.org) and
helps run the Sanbornton Farmers' Market. Along with his wife, Joanne, he grows
certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.
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