Asparagus season is fleeting, with April as the peak time to get it on the table. Learn how to cook it on the grill, in the oven, or on the stovetop with this simple guide (we even included a few good recipes to try).

 

Chris Hughes
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Pictured recipe: Grilled Asparagus

One of the surest signs of spring is seeing fat, healthy bunches of asparagus showing up in your local market. This distinctive, earthy vegetable is fantastic in everything from omelets to stir-fries and salads, so take advantage of the spring bounty. Here's everything you need to know about how to buy asparagus, how to store it, and how to cook the choicest in-season stalks once you get it home.

How to Buy Asparagus

Although size isn't necessarily an indication of quality (thicker asparagus just means it's more mature), you don't want droopy, spindly stalks. Look for bright green or violet-tinged spears with compact tips, firm stems and bottoms that aren't woody. A ripe stalk of asparagus will actually squeak when squeezed.

How to Store Asparagus

1. Snip off those rubber bands as soon as you get home (although convenient for transport and display, rubber bands pinch and bruise the stems). Then trim the stalk bottoms.

2. Place them in a tall glass or vase filled with an inch of water so the stalks are standing up.

3. Refrigerate for up to three days.

Cooking Asparagus

Steamed, sautéed, grilled or even shaved and served raw, asparagus is conducive to just about any preparation. It's really a matter of preference.

How to Sauté Asparagus

Maybe it's a weekday and you just want to go super simple (yet satisfying) to get asparagus on the plate. For this, you want to sauté it.

1. Chop your asparagus–it will cook faster and absorb more flavor.

2. Next, sauté some garlic, crushed red pepper and anchovy paste in a glug of olive oil over medium heat. Add asparagus pieces and cook for 5 minutes.

Voilà! The crisp-tender stalks are just a little bit spicy, a little bit salty-and a lot umami.

How to Boil Asparagus

1. To boil asparagus, do as the French do and peel the lower halves of the stalks.

2. Liberally salt a pot of water, and drop your trimmed and manicured spears into the boiling cauldron. You want your asparagus to remain slightly firm, so cook it for only 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Then immediately dress with lemon juice, olive oil, and some flaky salt.

Alternatively, you can remove the cooked asparagus from the pot and shock it in a bowl of ice water.

The blanched stalks can be arranged on a crudité platter or wrapped in a spring roll with smoked salmon, shredded carrot and a handful of fresh herbs.

How to Roast or Grill Asparagus

Cooking asparagus for a bit longer, whether on the grill or in the oven, helps develop and enrich its flavor. You might lose some of the attractive crunch and snap of quickly sautéed or blanched asparagus, but you'll be rewarded with some added smoky depth.

1. Start by trimming any woody stalk bottoms.

2. Douse the asparagus in olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. Place the spears on a sheet pan and roast at 425°F until just tender, about 20 minutes.

Take this simple side up a notch by pairing the asparagus with mushrooms and slices of prosciutto.

1. To grill asparagus, preheat the grill to medium. Place the asparagus on an oiled grill rack and grill.

2. Using tongs, turn the asparagus once or twice until tender and charred in spots.

3. Serve immediately.

Asparagus Nutrition Facts

Asparagus, like other green vegetables, is high in antioxidants, including vitamins C and E. It's also an excellent source of vitamin K, which helps prevent blood clotting and promotes bone health.

Low in calories, but high in nutrients, just a half cup of cooked asparagus provides 20 calories, 2 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein.

What Exactly Is Asparagus?

Asparagus was first grown in Greece more than 2,500 years ago, and was also cultivated and savored by the ancient Romans and Egyptians. It's now grown throughout many temperate regions of the world.

While most vegetables are annuals, asparagus is one of the few perennials (meaning they come back year after year), along with sunchokes, rhubarb and artichokes. Like most vegetables, asparagus was initially found growing in the wild, and wild varieties pop up in many areas come spring.

And while green asparagus is the most common sight in stores, you'll also see purple asparagus and the most prized white asparagus. These milder, sweeter stalks, which have inspired whole festivals in parts of Europe, are grown underground to ward off light-and hence chlorophyll production.

Photographer: Jennifer Causey; Food Stylist: Rishon Hanners; Prop Stylist: Heather Chadduck Hillegas

WATCH: How to Make Asparagus with Easy Blender Hollandaise Sauce