Thick or Thin?

This is the time of year when asparagus is popping up everywhere - from the ground, in the grocery stores and at your farmer's market.  During a recent visit to Whole Foods I found large bunches of delicate, bright green, pencil thin spears nestled against bunches of stalks as thick as Magic Markers.  Sort of like an aspen grove planted next to a redwood forest.  Both appealing, but very different.  Which to choose - thick or thin?

I used to believe that thin was the only way to go. The waif-like spears barely need cooking and to me are more aesthetically pleasing. Unfortunately, the skinny stalks don't really hold up well if you want to toss them with other vegetables or add them to a stir fry.  And then there's the crunch factor.  For any crunch to remain you have to eat them almost raw.

This week I was experimenting with Israeli-style couscous and wanted to saute a few vegetables together and then add them to the couscous as a vegetarian main. The thick stalks were a better choice for the task, so with both hands I hefted the mini redwoods into my cart.

For both thick and thin stalks I trim off the tough bottom portion with a knife. (You can break the spears if you prefer.) For the thick stalks I also use a vegetable peeler to peel the outer skin.  This removes the really fibrous part, enables the spears to cook more quickly and results in a bright green color.

For dishes such as the couscous I was making, I cut the thick spears into 1/4-inch slices.  If I were using thin spears I'd cut them in 1-inch pieces.

And the result?  The flavor was crisp, fresh and very asparagus-y, and the crunch factor was outstanding.  I usually save the tips for last but the thin slices of the thick stalk had so much flavor and texture, I found myself searching through the dish for more.

Whichever variety you choose, buy them now while they're in season.  Here are a few recipes to inspire you:

Asparagus Frittata


Asparagus with Lemon and Garlic Butter


Asparagus with Red Wine Vinaigrette


Help for Aspiring Aspagagus Growers

Not only is asparagus delicious, nutritious, and quick-cooking, it's also fairly easy to grow.  The spears push straight up out of the ground and when left uncut, turn into a beautiful fern-like plant.  It takes a couple of years before you can harvest the stalks, so plan now and start your asparagus crop soon!

Below are a couple of links to get you started:

How Stuff Works:  Asparagus - A brief article full of helpful hints on starting your own asparagus garden.

Growing Wisdom with David Epstein - A helpful video about growing asparagus.


Quote of the day:

"Are you casting asparagus on my cooking?" - Curly Howard