If you shop mostly at grocery stores, where the produce may or may not be connected all that much to seasonality, the appearance of one of my favorite vegetables every spring might not mean all that much to you. You’ve been seeing it. But if you’re a farmers market devotee like I am, the first glimpse of local green (or maybe purple, or white) spears in the first warm weeks after winter wanes makes you feel like exclaiming the way Steve Martin’s character in “The Jerk” does upon the arrival of the new phone books: The asparagus is here!
Now, what do you do with it? Roast, broil, braise, grill, stir-fry: There’s really no end to the ways you can cook it (or not — shaved raw is a really good way to go).
The new America’s Test Kitchen book, “Vegetables Illustrated,” is full of ideas for asparagus and dozens of other vegetables. And the book is worth buying for the tips alone, such as how best to store (standing the spears up in a glass filled with 1 inch of water, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated); to peel or not (yes if they’re thick, no if they’re pencil-thin); and whether you should follow that old advice to snap them at their breaking point (no, too wasteful).
The recipe I tried for this tortellini salad included another crucial pointer: to immediately plunge blanched asparagus into an ice bath after briefly boiling, setting the spears’ bright color and preventing them from overcooking. It keeps the texture crisp, all the better to pair with the tender cheese tortellini and fresh tomatoes. The salad gets the rest of its flavor from the ingredients in classic pesto, making this ideal for the warmer days of spring and even early summer. It tastes great at room temperature, too, which means picnic planning is in order.