English asparagus is in season from April to mid June, but since imports are also available then, examine the packaging to find out its provenance. Imported asparagus is prone to toughness.
Asparagus should have tightly packed, undamaged buds, and no slimy patches. Check that the cut ends aren't brown or withered.
Choose evenly sized stems, which will cook in the same time.
If your nail can't easily pierce the outer layer of the stem at the bottom, it may need peeling. Use a potato peeler and peel only as far up as you have to.
Save the water from boiling or steaming asparagus, and any trimmings, to make soup.
If you can't get fresh asparagus, cook a different dish: tinned asparagus bears no relation to fresh.
Fat stems, whatever their colour, tend to be preferred, but it's more important to choose the freshest stems.
The longer cut asparagus hangs around, the more the flavour is dulled, even becoming bitter.
Cooking asparagus is a challenge, since if you simply boil it, the tips will overcook and disintegrate before the rest of the stem is cooked.
An asparagus kettle is one solution, with its tall basket to hold the tips out of the boiling water, so that they steam gently while the stalks are simmered.
Another solution for the problem of cooking asparagus, is to roast it.
Roasting asparagus intensifies the sweetness of the vegetable, giving it a delicious, almost nutty flavour.
Greengrocers still refer to 'grass', short for 'sparrowgrass', a centuries-old name for asparagus.
Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan
Trim the asparagus and lay in a single layer in a roasting pan. Drizzle over olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook at Gas 6 (200°C) 400°F for about 10 - 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the asparagus (I wouldn't use the slender, pencil thin asparagus or 'sprue' for this). Sprinkle with a very little balsamic vinegar and add parmesan shavings just before serving. Serve it with ciabatta or olive bread.