For me, spring doesn’t start on a certain day, or even when the weather changes from cold and dreary to warm and sunny—it starts when I see little green spears poke up through the ground on the side of my house. The asparagus bed decides when it is spring, and spring has finally sprung.

I have many plans for my asparagus. Most of them are fairly simple, a quick broil or a sauté in a scorching hot cast iron pan is all the vegetable needs to be great, but chucking it into pastas, soups, and stir-fries is the easiest way to bring a pop of fresh, verdant flavor to any dish—and we have quite a large collection of dishes that benefit from the addition of asparagus.

High Heat and a Simple Dressing Is All You Need

Using direct, high heat is the easiest way to coax out the vegetable’s nutty flavor without turning it to mush. Broiling it on a sheet pan or charring it in a cast iron skillet both render the stalks crisp-tender in a matter of minutes. You don't need much else, other than a little butter and salt, but we love pairing asparagus with citrus. Milk Street recipe developer Courtney likes to finish broiled asparagus with a tangy-sweet, floral combination of orange and cardamom, and our skillet-charred asparagus is perfect with lemon juice and tarragon—two ingredients that complement the vegetable's fresh flavor.

It can, however, be fun to gild the lily. In our Japanese-inspired Asparagus Gomae, we dress skillet-cooked asparagus with a savory-sweet toasted sesame sauce; and to perk up a simple sauté, we add bracing pickled ginger, a little sugar, and a healthy knob of butter to the pan. The sugars caramelize lightly as the butter browns, developing a solid flavor base that plays up the grassy notes in the asparagus.

If you want to get French with it, you can finish quick-cooked spears with the pleasantly piquant sauce gribiche with hard-cooked eggs, horseradish, capers—we spike the sauce with caper brine and fry the actual capers to make a crispy garnish. It’s not technically traditional, but the capers punctuate the sauce beautifully with their crispy texture and salty flavor.

Stuff Spears Into Soups, Salads, and Sandwiches

I recently made these Ham, Gruyere, and Asparagus Tartines for a light Saturday supper and they were some of the best ham and cheese sandwiches I’ve ever had. The halved and broiled asparagus spears wilted across the top and balanced the richness of the salty ham and melted, nutty cheese, all of it anchored by a little Dijon and fresh pepper. (And they took all of 20 minutes to prepare.)

And with toasted Parmesan croutons, this springtime panzanella with asparagus and white beans eats like a deconstructed vegetarian sandwich. Based on the classic Italian salad that combines stale bread with vegetables and an oil and vinegar dressing, we use Parmesan two ways. Grated cheese is added to the bread midway through toasting to give the croutons a crisp, lacy cheese skirt. Then, we add freshly shaved Parmesan to give the salad an intense savoriness to contrast the sweet asparagus.

Tuscan-style garmugia is perfect for still-chilly spring nights. It’s a seasonal soup that celebrates the vegetables of spring—peas, asparagus, artichokes and fava beans—but it’s not vegetarian. It’s usually made with pancetta, meat stock and chunks of ground beef or veal to give the soup a meaty backbone. For our garmugia-inspired soup, we omit the ground meat but use pancetta and beef broth and simmer a Parmesan rind into the mix to boost the umami notes. It’s filling and satisfying without being heavy. Our Asparagus and Barley Soup is similarly filling, but light and bright with lemon and dill. (And, if you swap out the chicken broth for vegetable, this soup is vegetarian-friendly.)

Pastas Are the Perfect Vehicle for In-Season Asparagus

“The official pasta of spring” is what our digital content director Whitney calls this tangle of fettuccine, asparagus, lemon, and prosciutto. It’s quick and easy enough for a busy weeknight, but substantial, and elegant enough to serve at a springtime dinner party. Shallots, cream, Parmesan, asparagus, lemon and prosciutto work together beautifully, each holding their own in this eight-ingredient recipe. To speed things along, we cook the asparagus with the pasta in the same pot of boiling water.

Some of our other favorite asparagus pasta dishes:

  • Campanelle Pasta with Asparagus, Lemon, and Parmesan: In this one-pot affair, the pasta and asparagus start independently but finish together, simmered with half-and-half, so their flavors mix and meld.
  • Linguine with Artichokes, Asparagus, and Lemon-Mint Ricotta: For the silkiest sauce, we cook the pasta in a small amount of water to supercharge the starch content. Ricotta adds richness, while fresh mint and lemon keep things light and springy.
  • Creamy Asparagus Pasta: This lively springtime pasta dish was inspired by a recipe from River Cafe London, the most recent cookbook from Britain's landmark restaurant. The asparagus is finely chopped in the food processor; half is sautéed until tender and half is kept al dente for pleasing contrast in texture. A cup of cream binds the asparagus into a silky sauce just thick enough to coat the pasta.

And for a dish that’s somewhere between pasta and risotto, we cook orzo risotto-style, to give it a rich, silky texture—no milk or cream required. Floral basil is the perfect finishing touch for grassy-sweet asparagus and tangy lemon, but parsley, dill or chives would be delicious as well.

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