Asparagus season sneaks up on me every year. I anticipate it so hungrily, so ardently, that I have to put it out of my head as May approaches. Stay calm, I tell myself on the way to the farmers’ market, asparagus will be here soon enough.
Then, suddenly, there it is, in bunches and bunches of mauve-tipped stalks, as many as I can carry home, with more on the way. It’ll keep coming through June until — with cucumbers and the first cherry tomatoes on the horizon — the cycle of longing begins again.
Once I get my hands on those first bunches, I’ll cook them as simply as possible, perhaps a speedy sear in a hot buttered pan, or a brief rendezvous in the steamer basket until they turn bright green. With those first asparagus, I won’t even pause for a hollandaise, so eager am I to eat my fill. At last, the frenzied feed.
As the season progresses, I’ll slow down. By mid-May, I’ll be granted the patience required of actual recipes, taking my time to explore asparagus’s nuances beyond its fresh and grassy succulence.
Simmering the stalks into a velvety soup, for example, softens their flavor and brings out their sweetness. I toss leeks and fennel into the pot to play this up even more, letting their edges caramelize. A zucchini gives the broth body once everything is puréed. As a final touch, I sauté the asparagus tips until just tender, then float them on top of this bright green elixir.
Fresh asparagus is also excellent raw, especially shaved into ribbons. This takes a few minutes, but, after a soak in ice water, which curls the strands into a salad-like tangle, you’ll have a crisp, ethereal topping for all kinds of earthy dishes. Here, I season the strands with sesame and scallions, and scatter them over a savory asparagus-mushroom grain bowl, crowned with a jammy egg. It makes a highly satisfying meal, and, like all three of the recipes here, it’s meatless to boot.
And finally, asparagus season shall not pass without the stalks communing with a bowl of pasta. Inspired by a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, I mixed them with yogurt and feta for something piquant and creamy, but still on the light-and-springy spectrum.
The delights of asparagus are so varied, how can you possibly satisfy a year of craving in six weeks? Don’t rush it though, and keep calm. Asparagus has arrived.