So what is this vegetable? An "asparagi" is a stem or frond of an asparagus plant. If allowed to grow out this stem will grow 4-6 feet tall and develop fern like fronds from each of the cladodes or scale like leaves on each stem. What we eat is the immature stem that has just emerged from the ground and is usually about 8-12 inches long. They may be pencil thin or thick as a pretzel stick. Either size is good, depending on what you are planning to do with it. There are 3 varieties commercially available in varying degrees- the most common is green, the gourmet white (which is just green asparagus that has not been allowed to develop chlorophyll) and purple. The purple variety was developed in Italy and has a higher sugar content and less fiber than the green.
How do you use it? First, the tough, woody root end should be snapped off. I do this by holding the stem and just snapping the stem as far down to the root as it will snap. Don't throw these root ends away!! Save them in a plastic bag in the freezer until the bag is full. Use these ends to make asparagus soup at a later time (more on that at another time)
. In many restaurants, a chef will then take these stems and pluck each of the scales off up to the tip. Others even peel the skin to be sure the stems are tender. Personally, I do not see the point in all of this extra work. You will likely not be charging $20 a plate for these, so the extra work involved just seems a waste to me.
There are many recipes for ways to use asparagus in both recipe books and the internet. My favorite way to eat them is probably the simplest. I will place my cleaned stems in a shallow pan. I pour a small amount of olive oil and then salt and pepper on them and coat thoroughly. Place these stems on a hot grill, rolling them after a few moments to get good grill marks on all of them, to be sure they are cooked evenly and not burned. After they have cooked, maybe 7-10 minutes total, I put them back in the shallow pan with a few pats of butter and a good squeeze of lemon juice over them. Try to evenly coat them and serve immediately. That's it!! If by chance there should somehow be any leftover, these are absolutely wonderful when cold. I eat the leftover, cold asparagus for lunch whenever we have these leftovers. Another great, easy recipe would be to prep them, place in a shallow pan, add butter, lemon juice and sprinkle grated parmesan cheese over the top, cover with foil and place in a 400 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes. The lemon juice will help to steam the aspargus and the cheese will soften and start to melt over it. Serve immediately.