Monday 1 May 2017

English Asparagus

It's the season of silky green shoots, purple spears and stinky pee*. The name comes from the Persian meaning a 'sprout'. I'm always slightly surprised that I like asparagus; visually it resonates with childhood horrors of sulphurous brussels and stalky cabbage. But it is completely unrelated to the brassica family, being much closer to alliums, so like it I do. It has a taste like no other vegetable and works with almost any meat or fish.

Griddled, charred asparagus
I remember eating it barely blanched, basted with butter, in my friend Judith's little wooden conservatory in Suffolk. One of those food memories. It wasn't the first time I'd eaten it but it was the best. Just hooked from her garden, trimmed and plunged into boiling water until just bendy. A pat of cold butter and a light crunching of sea salt. Superb. if your veg is this fresh, don't eat it any other way.

If it comes via Mr Sainsbury or one of his friends, my other prep is to griddle it hot and fast and then let it wilt with more butter and salt. Maybe a couple of minutes either side, depending obviously on thickness. Don't be scared to really char it; this brings a sweetness along with other flavour elements. 

No need to do all that snapping to trim, that Mr Oliver popularised a few years back. You lose far too much of the edible stem for a start. Just knife off anything woody and centre split stems thicker than your thumb.

I never bother with the expensive 'fine' asparagus and certainly never buy just 'tips'. They're always far too expensive. Buy the real deal, trim the tips if you insist and then with the stems make soup or maybe a tart with ricotta.

In the supper club, I tend to blanch it until just wilting; literally two minutes in boiling water, before placing and storing in ice water. Just before service, place on a baking tray with some butter and gently reheat for maybe five minutes in a very low oven; no more than 90°C.

*Despite research, it seems no one yet knows what causes that distinctive aroma that graces the bathroom after dinner.

Asparagus and ricotta tart with pea shoots in a lemon dressing


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