Asparagus is easy to select and prepare, and comes in a variety of vibrant colors, including green, violet, purple and white.

The beautiful bunches of asparagus now appearing at grocery stores and farmer’s markets is like a personal invitation to deliciously celebrate spring. Asparagus is easy to select and prepare, and comes in a variety of vibrant colors, including green, violet, purple and white.

Some people call white asparagus “the vampire of the vegetable world” because it’s grown under a thick blanket of mulch and black plastic that shields it from the sun.

White asparagus never turns green because no photosynthesis takes place. The lack of sunlight not only changes the color, but the flavor. White asparagus spears are much more delicate than green asparagus.

Asparagus should be crisp and firm, not limp or wrinkled, with tightly closed tips. Dull colors and ridges in the stems are an indication of a lack of freshness. The stalks should not be limp or dry at the cut, and of uniform thickness.

Fresh asparagus should never be washed or soaked before storing. If the asparagus is bound with a rubber band, remove it as it will pinch and bruise the stalks. If you’re planning to use the asparagus on the same day, rinse it under cool water, pat the stalks dry with a paper towel and prep the stems.

Peeling the end of thicker stalks with a paring knife or a vegetable peeler removes any woody stems and can be done up to two hours before cooking. If preparing white asparagus, make sure to peel the bottom two-thirds of each spear because it tends to have a thick and bitter skin. Smaller stalks can be broken or cut at the point where the stem naturally snaps.

Asparagus can be stored for up to two days if the stalks are trimmed and placed upright in a jar with about an inch of water in the bottom. Cover the asparagus with a plastic bag and store the spears in the refrigerator.

Asparagus cooks in minutes and can be prepared in the oven or microwave, steamed or boiled. Boiling in salted water is the best technique for cooking white asparagus. But like its more colorful cousins, it’s also good roasted or grilled. Asparagus tastes delicious hot or cold and also freezes well if blanched first in hot water.

A quick and easy way to prepare asparagus is this Roasted Asparagus with Lemon and Parmesan. It’s a simple and delicious way to celebrate spring!

Roasted asparagus with lemon and Parmesan

2 pounds fresh asparagus, tough ends trimmed off

1/4 cup olive oil

4 teaspoons grated lemon zest

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

1. Heat oven to 425 F. Place asparagus in a greased 15 by 10 by 1 inch baking pan.

2. In a small bowl, mix the olive oil, 3 teaspoons of the lemon zest, garlic, salt, pepper and half of the cheese together, and drizzle it over the asparagus. Toss to coat. Roast until crisp-tender, 8-12 minutes.

3. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese and lemon zest. Serves 4 to 6.

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