Peeking shyly from sandy soil, these soldiers of Spring are a true April-May delicacy. Whether pale, undercover and interesting, exotic purple or (appropriately) spring-green, asparagus attracts us like no other vegetable. A few of you may demure from its herbal charms, but for the rest of us the arrival of this short-lived crop is nothing short of sigh-inducing. It is one of the few vegetables that really is at its best nearly naked, save for a butter sauce, or something like this carrot-miso concoction. To be honest, I like it best plainly roasted, then finished off with lemon and salt as it comes out of the oven. If I can be bothered it instead gets tossed onto a griddle pan to get those pretty, restauranty charred bits, but the oven is fine. I could eat it this way for days on end, only turning to ‘fancier stuff’ like this sauce when the sudden novelty wears off, or when just a heap of oddly-addictive vegetation – no matter how wonderful – won’t suffice.
If you went to a farmer’s market at the weekend you will no doubt have seen folk carrying paper-wrapped bundles of this delicate-budded plant. Looking pretty pleased with themselves, I might add. Sure you can get good stuff from the supermarket, but what a special treat to pay over the odds for a stiff-as-pencils parcel of super-fresh asparagus.
The best of the best comes from the Vale of Evesham, in the West Midlands, an area known for its particularly fertile soil. Asparagus is so special here that it gets its own quite quirky festival to celebrate: I can’t think of any other vegetable that gets a lift to London’s Fortnum and Mason in a classic Morgan. Or has a tour bus named after it: the Asparabus.Would we do that for carrots? I think not. Other countries celebrate their asparagus crops, so it’s not just the British who are mad for asparagus. But really, our crops are the best!
As well as being especially lovely to look at – I pop it into a vase and stick it on the kitchen windowsill – it is brimming with health-giving goodness. Anti-flammatory compounds, various flavonoids, a list of vitamins and minerals as long as your arm – it’s got the lot. Asparagus is also one of the few foods to contain the digestive support nutrient, inulin. To find out more about this leggy lovely, visit World’s Healthiest Foods. You will also find out whether anyone has an answer to a particular question that a number of us wonder about…
Do you love asparagus? What’s your favourite way to eat it? Have you ever been to an asparagus festival?
Asparagus recipes from others:
Butter-Braised Asparagus and Oyster Mushrooms with Peas and Tarragon, via NYTimes.com (Melissa Clark)
Asparagus and Chive Bread Pudding, via The Guardian (Yotam Ottolenghi)
Crispy Asparagus and Camembert Parcels, via Delicieux’s Anneli Faiers
Roasted Asparagus, Spring Onion, Chorizo and Butter Bean Salad with Lime-Chipotle Dressing, via Laura of How To Cook Good Food
Asparagus, Mozzarella, Tomato and Egg Salad, via Ren Behan
And one other from me: Asparagus, Shiitake and Roquefort Pastries
This Week in 2011: Lebanese-style Broad Bean (Fava) Hummus
This Week in 2012: Goats Cheese, Swiss Chard & Walnut Strudel with Tomato Fondue
Miss R’s Track of the Week: Love Me Again by John Newman
Part dressing, part sauce, part dip! This is pretty similar to the dressing that douses the too-cold lettuce and mooli salads that you get at US Japanese steak houses. Although I haven’t had such a salad in a looong time, I remember the rather lurid-orange dressing tasting like this. My memory may be faulty in many regards (Queen Key-Loser here), but with regards to food memories, it is near-faultless. Keep it thick for a dip or loosen with more vinegar, lime or some water for a pouring sauce or dressing. Store in a lidded jar for up to a week in the fridge.
I’ve roasted some asparagus and hard-cooked some eggs to make this a light lunch for two people, but you can have this sauce with pretty much any salad or pile of vegetables, or use as a dip for raw vegetables and flatbread/breadsticks. It would also liven up a brownbag grain, lentil (or any protein) and veg salad.
Honey, to taste (I didn’t use any, but you might like to)
Pop everything but the pepper and honey into a blender or food processor. Use the pulse button if you have one to get everything roughly chopped. If you don’t have a pulse button I would have the carrots and ginger grated prior to blending. Once everything is roughly mixed and chopped let the machine run until you get as smooth a sauce as possible. It will be quite thick (as seen in the images). Taste and see if you want to add white pepper and/or honey. If you want it thinner, as for a salad dressing, just blend in a little water, lime juice or vinegar, depending on your taste preference.
A few chive stalks, snipped – optional
First of all cook the eggs to your liking. I like hard-boiled with this (and anyone on chemotherapy should have them hard-boiled), but soft boiled would be lovely and ‘melt’ into the sauce on the plate. If you aren’t sure of the best way to cook eggs, ‘Saint Delia’ is your woman. This British cooking icon is the first lady of cooking instructions, and is rather famous for her explicit instructions on how to boil eggs. No, really. She may irritate with her schoolmarmishness, and she may not be the most exciting of cooks, but no one can fault her recipes. I love her ginger cake recipe.
So, eggs on the go, let’s get on with the asparagus. Which is dead-easy.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F. Wash and pat dry the asparagus, removing any grit. Take each spear and gently bend the lower third until the woodier end bit snaps; discard the snapped end.
Get a large baking tray and lay on the trimmed asparagus. Drizzle with 1 tbsp of olive oil and gently roll the spears around (the tips are a bit delicate) until each spear is glossy.
Place the tray in the hot oven and roast the asparagus for about 10 minutes, checking at eight minutes to make sure they aren’t cooking too quickly.
Remove the tray from the oven and divide the asparagus between two plates. Peel and slice the hard-boiled eggs, and divide between the plates. Drizzle over about a quarter of the sauce on each dish of asparagus and eggs. Garnish with chives if you like. Eat immediately.
Keep the remaining sauce for up to a week in a tightly-closed jar in the refrigerator. Use as a dip for raw vegetables instead of hummus, as a sandwich spread with avocado slices and fresh sprouts, as a healthy dip with breadsticks or similar.