Ahhhhh spring. That magical time of year when buds appear on trees after a long, cold winter and crocuses and daffodils pop up from the ground.

Spring also means asparagus, also known as sparrow grass. The tender shoots can be prepared in many ways including coating them with a little olive oil and grilling them.

According to The History Kitchen on PBS, asparagus became widely available in Colonial times and it was one of Thomas Jefferson’s favorites. Jefferson had a square in his Monticello garden reserved for asparagus; it was one of the few vegetables for which he documented a cultivation technique (the plants were mulched with tobacco leaves). Jefferson recorded its seasonal arrival at his Monticello table 22 times, usually in early April, according to The History Kitchen on PBS.

We’ve been feasting on asparagus lately because it’s easy to prepare and makes a fabulous side dish. I especially love it sauteed with some garlic, capers, lemon and sun-dried tomatoes. A sprinkle of salt enhances the flavor while a squeeze of lemon adds a perfect finishing touch.

Another delicious way to enjoy asparagus is to roast it in the oven. Coat the asparagus with a little olive oil, then season it with some salt and pepper and pop it into a hot oven. It roasts quickly and you can enjoy it as is or elevate the dish with some toasted bread crumbs and Parmesan.

Last week I picked up my third bunch of asparagus at the grocery store (I kept waiting for the white or purple asparagus to make its way to the produce section but it never appeared). I considered making a cream of asparagus soup but after I sautéed it with fresh shallots and simmered it in chicken broth, I didn’t want to put it through the food processor so I added some milk and cream and turned it into a creamy soup.

Good thing there wasn’t any purple asparagus at the store; I’m not sure my kids would’ve eaten a purple soup.

Creamy Asparagus Soup

1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and chopped

2 T. butter

1/2 c. shallot, chopped

2 T. flour

32 oz. container vegetable stock

1 c. milk

1/2 c. heavy cream

2 tsp. Kosher salt

1 tsp. black pepper

1 T. fresh lemon juice

2 T.fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish, if desired

Add butter to a stockpot and set over medium high heat. When butter is melted, add asparagus and shallots. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables have softened. Sprinkle flour over the asparagus and cook for an additional minute, then stir in the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the cream, milk, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and garnish with parsley before serving.

Oven Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan & Lemon

1 lb. of fresh asparagus, trimmed

1 1/2 T. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 T. butter

1/4 c. shredded parmesan cheese

1 lemon

1/4 c. bread crumbs

1 T. fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish if desired

1 tsp. coarse salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

Add asparagus to a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with chopped garlic. Turn asparagus over in the dish to coat. Cut lemon in half and squeeze the juice of one-half over the asparagus; season with salt and pepper. Set in an oven preheated to 425 degrees and roast for 10 to 12 minutes or until the asparagus has softened and is tender. While asparagus is cooking, add butter to a small skillet and set over medium high heat. When the butter is melted, add bread crumbs and toast for 2 to 3 minutes. When asparagus is tender, take it out of the oven and spoon the bread crumbs over the asparagus, then top with Parmesan. Squeeze remaining lemon half over the asparagus and return to the oven for 2 to 3 minutes or until Parmesan is melted. Garnish with parsley before serving, if desired.

Sauteed Asparagus with Sun Dried Tomatoes and Capers

1 lb. fresh asparagus, trimmed

1 c. sun dried tomatoes, chopped

1/4 c. capers

1 T. fresh lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 1/2 T. olive oil

2 T. slivered almonds

1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt

1/2 tsp. fresh pepper

1 T. chive or green onion, chopped, for garnish

Set a sauté pan over medium high. When the pan is warm, add the olive oil and garlic. When the garlic begins to brown, add the asparagus, capers, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Saute until the asparagus is tender, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with almonds and chives before serving.