If you're an instant-gratification person, growing asparagus isn't for you. The marvelous and beautiful perennial plant takes at least three years from planting to producing.

However, we lucky folks can pick up the tasty bundles in the produce department of our neighborhood grocers with no energy expended.

These harbingers of spring are easy to prepare, are low in calories and are beautiful to look at.

MANY VARIETIES

Asparagus are thought to have originated in the eastern Mediterranean and have been a prized culinary delight for more than 2,000 years. While there are more than 300 varieties of asparagus, only about 20 are edible.

Asparagus reached the United States from Italy in the mid-1600s, and by the mid-1800's the United States was the leading producer of asparagus.

In this country, we are more likely to be familiar with the thin or thick green asparagus, while in Europe the thicker white asparagus is more common. Although they are in the same family as the green, white asparagus are grown underground, where they are deprived of the light necessary for the production of chlorophyll.

Though white asparagus tends to be thicker it has a more delicate flavor than the green varieties and are more costly due to the more labor-intensive growing process.

We Washingtonians are blessed with our Eastern Washington city of Yakima, home to the largest asparagus crop in the Northwest.

When choosing asparagus be sure they are firm with closed, compact tips. As the tips start to "bloom" the asparagus grow less tender.

COSTLIER, BUT MEMORABLE

Although I love the chartreuse asparagus soup, asparagus and morel mushroom risotto and roasted asparagus we make this time of year at the Madison Park Café, my personal historic preference is for the white beauties.

When I lived in Geneva, the white asparagus were sure signs of spring at the twice-weekly vegetable market.

This recipe is from a small café on the outskirts of Geneva I frequented. Although they are costly, the white asparagus will make a memorable first course for a spring or summer repast.

Karen Binder owns Madison Park Café. She can be reached at mptimes@nwlink.com.