Food and Drink

   

In Season: Asparagus

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We had a very exciting discovery in the garden this week. The first asparagus of the season are beginning to poke their heads through the mulch. This is especially exciting for us because it will be the first time we can eat them. Last year the poor little baby plants had to be pruned of all signs of spears so their roots could gain strength for the future.

This means, of course, that soon we’ll be seeing locally grown asparagus in shops too. Not that we have needed to go without asparagus all together, but I don’t see the sense in eating fresh food that has come all the way from Peru or wherever. Not that I have anything at all against Peruvians of course, but with so many added ‘food miles’ I prefer to eat something locally grown and allow the seasons to control my diet. The asparagus growing centre of Australia is our own Kooweerup and they’re still recovering from the flood of earlier this year, but I noticed as I passed by the paddocks this week that the first spears are pushing through to the surface.

Anyway, how am I going to enjoy our first ever asparagus spears?

To prepare them simply bend the stems with your thumb underneath and they will break right at the join between the tough and tender parts.

Asparagus is best just barely cooked. Plunge them into rapidly boiling water then simmer very gently until they just begin to soften. Overcooked and their flavours change which is why some people don’t like asparagus. They are also great char-grilled, but I like to blanch them first. Plunge then into boiling water for just a few seconds then chill in cold water to stop the cooking process until you need them. I find that this tends to prevent a bit of shrivel on the BBQ.

You can’t beat the traditional asparagus with hollandaise sauce — one of the classic food combinations. Add a soft fried egg and you have a great light lunch. But high in butter hollandaise may be a bit rich for a modern diet, and can be a bit tricky to make for the uninitiated. For something a little healthier, and just as nice, simply add coddled, or very lightly poached, eggs. Dip the spears into the runny egg as a sauce.

Another favourite in our house is with Chinese-style black bean sauce. We make our own by soaking the black beans in water for 10 minutes, rinsing and adding them to lightly sautéed garlic, spring onion, fresh ginger, finishing with a splash of soy sauce and rice wine, thickening with cornflour. A little fresh chilli can add a kick, and some chopped coriander if you like.

Asparagus risotto is also a favourite. Simply swap blanched or sautéed asparagus for the pumpkin in the pumpkin risotto recipe I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

Make little bundles of asparagus wrapped in prosciutto and finish in the oven, or how about a nice and quick asparagus frittata?

Ingredients:
1 small red onion (very finely chopped)
1 bunch fresh asparagus (sliced on an angle)
4 eggs (lightly whisked)
100g feta cheese (diced)
100g parmesan cheese (grated)

Method:
In an oven proof fry pan, gently sauté the onion in a little olive oil, add the asparagus and toss over the heat for about 1 minute. Combine half of both cheeses with the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Add the onion and asparagus, scatter the remaining cheeses on top and place in a very hot oven until it is cooked.


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