When shopping for asparagus, look for firm, clean and straight stalks. Wobbly stalks and discolored ends are telltale signs not to buy. Use a sharp knife to trim only the very bottom from the stalk; breaking it off causes more of the bottom to go to waste. With “pencil” asparagus, I find the stalks too thin to peel. For larger asparagus, I peel them (because the outer skin can be tough once cooked) and leave the top two inches intact. Not planning to use them right away? Fresh asparagus should be kept refrigerated. Placing the stalks upright in a little bit of water (as you would a bouquet of flowers, for example) can extend its shelf life.
I like asparagus al dente, a.k.a slightly crunchy. A six-ounce serving of asparagus will cook al dente in boiling water in about 2-3 minutes; add enough salt after the water begins to boil until it tastes like mild seawater. Once cooked, transfer the stalks to a bowl of cold water with ice to stop them from cooking further, dry them off and serve them whole drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil. When I serve them chilled, I let them sit in the fridge in the dressing for a few minutes before serving. For something even richer, try a dressing with two parts hazelnut oil, a handful of chopped, toasted hazelnuts and one part lemon juice. Drain the asparagus, dry stalks of excess water and toss them, warm, into the bowl with the dressing. When I serve them warm, I have the dressing ready; I toss and eat right away.
What about roasted asparagus? Drawing the water from the stalks by roasting them leaves you with the purest asparagus taste. Lightly coat the stalks with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread them evenly across a baking sheet. Place them in a roaring-hot 450 degree F oven for about 35 minutes, depending on their thickness. You can also drop the asparagus (in a single layer) into a hot pan with some olive oil and roast them on top of the stove just as easily. Top with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Be careful to add any acid just before serving. If left on too long, the acid from vinegar or lemon will turn any green vegetable brown.
Simplest of all? Shave them raw into a salad with some slices of fresh strawberry and arugula or simply grill and top with a piece of fish.