Asparagus stalks are the young spear-shaped shoots obtained from a perennial plant native to both Europe and Western Asia.
It is a member of the lily family and thousands of years has been eaten as a vegetable.
The most common variety is harvested when it is above ground and exposed to photosynthesis.
White asparagus is obtained by cutting the shoots before they break the surface of the ground or they are grown in darkness; therefore they lack the deep chlorophyll green (they just need a suntan).
There is a purple variety available, although it turns greener when it is cooked.
Very young, thin asparagus spears are called ‘sprue’.
Interestingly, fresh export asparagus is packed into boxes approximately 2/3 full, as the spears continue to grow and fill up the box during its days in transit.
How to cook fresh asparagus
The base of asparagus spear is generally tough and woody. The ends can be cut, snapped or peeled off and discarded.
Asparagus should be laid on their side and cooked in shallow simmering water. A little salt can be added to the water.
There is also a commercially produced upright asparagus steamer available.
Most importantly asparagus should not roll around as it simmers because it can break-up.
Asparagus is best eaten just tender (but still firm); the Italians refer to this as ‘al dente’. If you prefer your asparagus a little more cooked, it should bend when picked up with a fork (but not droopy and soft like tinned asparagus).
Try slices of creamy Camembert cheese slightly melted over hot cooked asparagus, drizzled with lemon juice and freshly milled black pepper.