Asparagus is at its best from mid-April to the end of June, depending on the weather. While the carefully graded bunches of matching spears might sometimes seem an expensive luxury, the loose ungraded asparagus can be reasonable at the height of the (short) season. Apart from the very thin shoots called sprue, which I like to chop up and use in soups, quiches or other cooked dishes such as Eggs en Cocotte, I have now almost completely given up making things with asparagus; I think the thicker grade of asparagus is best eaten as it is, with the serving suggestions as mentioned below.
To serve four as a starter use 1 lb 4 oz (570 g) of asparagus. Firstly wash the asparagus as it can be very dusty, then take each spear in both hands and bend and snap off the woody end, then trim the ends with a knife to make them neater.
To cook the asparagus, lay the stalks on an opened fan steamer (or an ordinary steamer will do) then place them in a frying pan or saucepan. Pour in about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of boiling water from the kettle, then season with salt and put a lid on. If you are cooking a large quantity they can be piled one on top of the other in a steamer in a large saucepan.
Steam for 5-6 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stalks, or until they feel tender when tested with a skewer.
Serve the asparagus on hot plates with some Hollandaise Sauce or melted butter poured over the tips, or warm or cold with a good vinaigrette. Pick them up with your hands and eat down to the tough ends, dipping in the sauce after each bite. Also, don't forget to have finger bowls and napkins at the ready.