Though an out-of-season import from South America, I couldn’t resist buying a bunch of fine white asparagus. This is the cultivated form of the lily and there are three basic types: green asparagus that are harvested at soil level, white asparagus that is cut below the soil when the tips are about 5cm above it, and the willowy, slightly bitter wild asparagus. Fat white tips are a favourite in the Alsace region of France, Germany and Spain whilst the purple-tipped white variety is favoured in Central France and Italy and the all-green is popular in Great Britain and North America. Whichever is you preference, choose stems that look fresh and tender, avoiding those that are wilted, have a coarse woody stem or show brown patches.

Rinse each stalk to loosen any soil before removing woody, tough parts. The theory is that the stem snaps at the ‘right’ place but trimming 3 or 4 cm from the base is generally fine and makes the spears the same length too. A narrow asparagus pan is usually recommended but I find my regular steamer or saucepan to be adequate, either steaming or simmering for around 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the spears.

A versatile vegetable, asparagus is delicious either hot or cold and can be added to a host dishes that include soups, tarts, mousse and risotto. The French serve their spears hot and plain with warmed butter whilst the Italians eat it cold with vinaigrette though a new favourite of mine is with a blood-orange maltaise sauce as prepared by Jennifer McLagan, contrasting bundles of plump white stems against a buttery bitter-sweetness.

The blood-orange season is in full swing and following an Italian lead, decided to prepare the asparagus as a cold dish and the obvious choice was to accompany with blood-orange vinaigrette: Trim and steam (or simmer) the asparagus until tender, immediately plunging into iced water; drain, pat dry then arrange on a serving plate. Finely chop the zest of the orange and sprinkle over the asparagus. Prepare the vinaigrette by whisking together the juice of the orange with a little sea salt, white pepper and 1 tsp. Dijon mustard. Drizzle in a fruity olive oil, whisking until a thick opaque sauce has formed. Taste, adjust seasoning and sprinkle over the asparagus. I enjoyed this as a light lunch, served with nutty flavoured wholemeal bread but equally, this can be served hot or cold as an accompaniment to practically anything.