ASPARAGUS is a vegetable that consists of the shoots of the plant, which are eaten before the blossoms develop. It grows quickly and is very tender if the shoots are clipped at just the right time after they appear above the ground. It comes early in the spring, being about the first green vegetable that gets into the local market, but its season is comparatively short. It does not keep long after it is purchased and is better when it is used at once.
In selecting asparagus, it should be remembered that there are two varieties, one of which is green and the other white. The stems of the green asparagus should be green to the bottom, and should not be hard nor woody where they are cut from the plant. However, if a part of the stems is found to be woody, the hard ends should not be rejected, for the outside may be peeled off and the center used, or the hard ends may be cooked with other vegetables for the making of soup. The white asparagus will have slightly green tips, while the rest of the stem will be white.
PREPARATION FOR COOKING - To prepare asparagus for cooking, strip the tiny scales from the sides of the stems by means of a small paring knife. These hold sand and are responsible for the presence of the grit that is sometimes found in a cooked dish of asparagus. Then wash the stems thoroughly in several cold waters, lifting them out of the water after each washing instead of pouring the water off of them. If the water is poured off the stems, the sand that has been washed from them is likely to remain in the bottom of the pan and mix with the vegetable again.
When the asparagus has been sufficiently washed, it may be used in the full lengths or cut into pieces of any desired length, 1 inch being the size that is usually preferred. If stems are to be cooked whole, it is a good plan to form them into a bunch as when purchased and tie the bunch with a tape or a string. When this is done, the string should, of course, be cut and removed before the asparagus is served. A point to remember about the preparation of this vegetable is that it should always be cooked in boiling, salted water.
ASPARAGUS WITH BUTTER DRESSING - Perhaps the simplest way in which to prepare asparagus is to cook it in salted water and then serve it with a butter dressing. When prepared in this way, it may be served plain, but it becomes more attractive, if it is placed on squares of toast.
For this dish, secure a bunch of fresh, tender asparagus, wash it thoroughly, and then, as desired, cut it into inch lengths or allow it to remain whole. Pour enough boiling water over it to cover well, add salt in the proportion of 1 teaspoonful to each quart of water, and allow it to cook until the stems may be easily pierced with a fork, which in most cases will require not more than from 10 to 15 minutes. The length of the cooking is an important factor with this vegetable, for when it is overcooked its flavor is not so agreeable as when it has had just enough cooking. When the asparagus is done, drain off the water, season with a little more salt and a dash of pepper, and, if it is to be served without toast, add 1 tablespoonful of butter for each bunch cooked, allowing the butter to melt. In case it is to be served on toast, allow a small amount of the liquid in which it was cooked to remain on it, add the butter to this, and, after placing several of the stems or a number of the pieces on the squares of toast, dip a little of the liquid over all.