Asparagus is a member of the lily family and is grown for its edible, spear-like shoots. The shoots are typically harvested when they are immature because they become woody and bitter as they reach maturity. Asparagus has been used for millennia; the earliest known depiction of asparagus is on an ancient Egyptian frieze dating to about 3000 B.C. The Greeks and Romans knew the vegetable, and the Romans especially loved it. Romans ate asparagus year-round, fresh while in season, and dried during the winter. Asparagus spread throughout the Roman Empire and was grown and eaten from Spain to the Middle East. After the fall of the Roman Empire, asparagus nearly disappeared from Europe, and there is almost no evidence of asparagus being used in the medieval period. Use of asparagus spread across Western and Northern Europe in the mid-16th century. Our word for asparagus derives from the earlier English sperage, which ultimately derives from Persian asparag, which means “shoot” or “sprout.”
Asparagus is commonly lightly seasoned and roasted as a side dish. Roasting asparagus with butter or olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and herbs like tarragon, sage, and oregano is a great way to prepare the vegetable. Try wrapping asparagus in bacon or prosciutto and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Other methods of cooking asparagus include boiling, grilling, and sautéing. Sauté asparagus with mushrooms and grape tomatoes for a tasty side dish. Grilling asparagus is a great way to prepare it as well, and imparts a smoky sweet flavor. Cream of asparagus soup is a tasty recipe, but cooking chunks of asparagus in any soup works quite well. Add asparagus to quiche or omelets to add some texture and flavor. Asparagus subzi is a flavorful curry recipe that features asparagus and a wealth of warm spices.
Look for asparagus that is firm but not hard and woody. It should be moist and feel somewhat heavy for its size. Asparagus is typically dark green, but can vary depending on its maturity and even on its growing location. When exposed to the sun for longer periods, asparagus becomes darker green. The best way to store asparagus is in a jar or other container that will hold the vegetable upright. Trim the stems of the asparagus and keep them submerged in about an inch of water. The key to keeping asparagus fresh is to make sure they stay cool and damp, so keep the jar with the water and asparagus in the refrigerator. It will stay fresh for about four days. When asparagus wilts and loses its color, it is no longer good to use. Always wash fresh produce prior to use.