Asparagus is a spring treat at the farmer's market and is best enjoyed in its own season (usually September-December).
These tall, crisp-tender spears can be pencil-thin or as thick as a thumb. Look for firm stalks and tight, dry and often purple-tinged tips, avoiding those that are moist looking. The cut end should look freshly cut and not too dried out. If there is slight spreading at the top, the spears are still good. The length of the stalk should be all or mostly green. The white at the bottom should be discarded before cooking.
It’s best to cook asparagus right away, but you can cut 2 cm or so off the stalk at the base, set the bunch in a shallow pan of water and refrigerate for up to 4 days.
Bend the stalks until they snap at their natural breaking point, or trim to similar lengths and use a vegetable peeler to get rid of the thick, fibrous end. Steam or boil fresh spears vertically in an asparagus steamer or horizontally in a large frying pan (not a crowded saucepan) and serve hot, topped with melted butter and a squeeze of lemon juice, or cold, dressed with vinaigrette. Asparagus can also be coated with olive oil and roasted at a high temperature or grilled. Slender spears are good sautéed in a bit of olive oil or butter and tossed with pasta; stockier spears are great additions to soups and stews.