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Spears of Spring 

There's nothing like spring to make you simultaneously giddy and depressed. Just as I take an excited whiff of crocuses popping their pretty little boobies through the soil, it seems that an enormous gust of chilly wind blows right through my panties, reminding me that it ain't time for sandals just yet, dear. Inevitably, I think of an Ella Fitzgerald tune, "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," which laments the season: "Doctors once prescribed a tonic ... of sulfur and molasses ... My condition must be chronic."

How I know Ella's pain. But instead of molasses, my tonic is asparagus.

Elegant, versatile and extremely nutritious, the spears of asparagus are a manic-depressive's dream come true. You can do almost anything to asparagus and it still tastes good. Whether steamed, microwaved, sauteed, roasted, grilled or pureed, the 'gus requires little cooking time or imagination but offers tasty, gorgeous and nutritious results.

If you're pregnant, asparagus is a powerhouse of the much-needed folic acid, and for everybody else, you're getting hearty quotients of potassium, vitamin C, B6, and a fabulous antioxidant called glutathione. If you're dieting, those babies set you back only four calories per spear.

At market, pick stalks that look firm, proud, bright and not woody. Use within a few days, or you'll have chlorophyll sludge in the fridge. By the way, white asparagus is green asparagus without the chlorophyll (it's grown underground), and the purple variety is the white stuff getting a peek of the sun.

Below, a few ideas to get you started. The only way you can really screw up asparagus is by overcooking it — it's hard to forget a boiled stalk of Army-green mush.

Blanch it: Submerge trimmed stalks into rapidly boiling water for about 1 minute, then place into an ice bath. Drain. Combine soy sauce, an inch of peeled, fresh ginger, a splash of sesame oil and some Dijon-style mustard. Pour over cooled stalks and let marinate for about 15 minutes. Killer quickie snack for cocktails.

Roast it: Set oven to 400 degrees. Place stalks in roasting pan. Spritz olive oil on top. Sprinkle coarse salt, lemon zest (aka rind) and chopped fresh garlic. Roast until tender, about 15 minutes.

Saute it: Chop stalks into half-inch pieces. Dice half a shallot. Heat olive oil in pan and cook shallot. Add stalks, salt, pepper. Cook until tender, about five minutes. Add chopped olives and mix. Remove from pan; add some goat cheese. Top with fresh chopped parsley.

- Kim O'Donnel

Culinary questions? Reach CL's Kitchen Witch at

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