Asparagus speaks of spring. Because it is such a delicate vegetable, it can be tender even when served relatively crunchy. If you're heating asparagus, there's a fine line between perfect and overdone, so pay close attention and don't try to multitask when you're cooking it on the stove top. The best way to cook asparagus so it's crunchy is to saute, blanch or steam it very lightly.
Crunchy Sauteed Asparagus Recipe
If you buy asparagus at your local farmers' market, its season will coincide with spring onions and spring garlic, two flavorings that complement it beautifully. Prep your asparagus by slicing it into 2-inch lengths after trimming about 2 inches off the stem, the end furthest from the tip. If you bend the stalk it will break right where the tender usable part divides from the tough part that should be discarded.
Prep your spring onions and spring garlic by trimming the top and bottom ends and then slicing each bulb and stem into half-inch pieces.
Heat olive oil or butter in a medium-size saucepan. Add the sliced spring onion and sliced spring garlic and saute for about three minutes until they're tender and fragrant. Add the sliced asparagus spears and stems and saute for about three minutes until the pieces turn a rich shade of green. Turn off the heat as soon as the asparagus is ready to avoid overcooking it.
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Crunchy Blanched Asparagus Recipe
Most recipes for blanching asparagus will tell you to prepare an ice bath so you can quickly cool down the vegetable after you've plunged it briefly into boiling water. You can actually save this cumbersome step, which is intended to keep the asparagus from overcooking once you remove it from the water, by simply undercooking it a bit. That way, if it continues to cook a bit after you drain it, it will still reach just the right degree of crunchiness.
Boil water in a medium-size saucepan. Prep the asparagus by trimming the tough ends by bending them where they break and then cutting the remaining stalks into 2-inch lengths. Add the prepped asparagus to the boiling water, bring the water back to a boil, cook for about thirty seconds and then drain.
If you're cooking larger quantities, use a larger pot or use a slotted spoon to remove the cooked asparagus from the water before adding another batch.
Crunchy Steamed Asparagus Recipe
To steam crunchy asparagus, simply limit its cooking time and remove it from the steamer before it softens. Use a folding metal steamer basket, a double-layer perforated pot or a metal colander suspended over some boiling water. If you use the latter option, allow a little extra cooking time because the lid of your pot won't fit snugly and some heat and steam will escape. Use about an inch of water, enough to not boil out but not so much that the asparagus is sitting in the water.
Prep the asparagus by trimming the tough ends and cutting the stalks into 2-inch pieces or larger or smaller if you prefer. Steam for two to three minutes until the color deepens but not until the asparagus starts losing its color and takes on a grayish tinge. You can test a stalk for doneness: It should be cooked all the way through but still crunchy. Remove the asparagus from the pot and season immediately.
Seasoning Crunchy Asparagus
You can season crunchy asparagus to go with just about any meal. Sauteed garlic with dried or fresh dill and lemon juice works especially well, and you can also add a bit of whole-grain mustard to make it pop. Soy sauce, sesame oil and ginger flavor crunchy asparagus to go with an Asian meal. You can also prepare a cheese sauce for a richer, more decadent option. The possibilities are virtually limitless.
Devra Gartenstein is a self-taught professional cook who has authored two cookbooks: "The Accidental Vegan", and "Local Bounty: Seasonal Vegan Recipes". She founded Patty Pan Cooperative, Seattle's oldest farmers market concession, and teaches regular cooking classes.