Labour-intensive to grow, asparagus are the young shoots of a cultivated lily plant. They're considered to be one of the delicacies of the vegetable world, with a price tag to match, and have a distinct, intense savoury flavour. Sprue is the term for young, very slender asparagus.
While French asparagus is purple, the British and American varieties are green. In contrast, Spanish and much Dutch asparagus is white, as it's grown beneath the soil and cut just as the tips emerge.
All types pack a nutritional punch, with high levels of vitamins A and C, potassium, iron and calcium, and they're also diuretic, giving urine an unmistakable aroma (which, curiously, not everyone can smell!).
Choose the best
The tips should be tightly furled and perky, rather than limp, and the shoots should be straight and firm.
Sprue needs no preparation other than a wash. For larger asparagus (which will also have more flavour), bend the spear until it snaps and throw the woody end away. If the ends still feel tough, you can pare away the exterior to reveal the more tender flesh beneath.
Wrap in damp kitchen paper, put in a perforated paper or plastic bag and keep in the salad drawer of the fridge. You can also store it in a glass or jug of cold water in the fridge.
Boiled (for 3-5 minutes) or steamed (4-5 minutes, depending on size) then served with Hollandaise sauce or hot melted butter or chopped and baked in a quiche or combined with peas, podded broad beans, young spinach leaves and basil for pasta primavera.
Sprinkled with sea salt, brushed with oil and roasted (for 15 minutes) or grilled (5 minutes), then served with Parmesan shavings and a spritz of lemon juice, or wrapped round with prosciutto.
Try French bean or mange tout.