Asparagus – A Spring Treat

asparagus

Here in Hawke’s Bay it is well into the asparagus season, in fact
before we know it the season will be finished – for some this is about the time they are starting to look for different ways to serve this spring treat, so this week I am having an asparagus festival (or is that feast!).

Starting today with hints and tips for selecting, storing and
preparing asparagus with a few easy ideas for using it, then over the next few days some great asparagus recipes.

It is believed that asparagus has been eaten for at least 20,000 years. It is depicted on an Egyptian frieze dating to 3000BC. Thought to be native to the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor, it has since ancient times been known in Syria, Spain, Greece, Italy and Egypt as well as throughout much of Europe.

In New Zealand we mainly grow green asparagus, but there are also white and purple varieties available. White asparagus is popular in Europe where it is often called “white gold” or “edible ivory”. Here, in New Zealand, we usually see white asparagus as a canned
product.

Selecting, Storing & Preparing Asparagus

  • Look for green spears which are smooth with closed unblemished dark green tips. Avoid spears which have woody, brown bases, yellowing stalks or tips which are open.
  • Store stalks in the refrigerator, upright in a jug of water.
  • Wash to remove any dirt or grit that might be clinging to the spears, then holding the base of the stalk in both hands, snap it. The woody ends can be saved to make stock or soup.
  • To cook asparagus, tie bundles of asparagus together with string. Bring a deep saucepan of water to the boil add salt to taste, place the bundles upright in the saucepan and cook for 4-6 minutes or until asparagus is tender. Standing the asparagus upright to cook ensures the tender tips do not overcook. Asparagus cookers/
    saucepans are also available, these are tall, narrow saucepans with a wire basket which means the asparagus stands upright without having to be tied into bundles.

Easy Ways to Use Asparagus

  • Braised Asparagus, Broad Beans and Pancetta: Cook 1 diced onion with ½ cup diced pancetta in olive oil for 5 minutes or until onion is soft. Add sliced asparagus, broad beans and chicken stock and braise over medium heat until vegetables are just cooked.
  • Barbecued Asparagus with Balsamic & Mustard Dressing: Toss prepared asparagus in olive and cook on a preheated barbecue plate, turning frequently, for 3-5 minutes or until asparagus is cooked. Place on a warm serving platter. Combine 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 2 tbsp olive oil and 1 tsp grainy mustard and pour over warm asparagus. Toss to coat. Scatter with Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.
  • Fresh Asparagus Rolls: Prepare and cook asparagus as described above. Lightly spread wholemeal or white sandwich slice bread with lemon and parsley butter. Trim off crusts, then lay an asparagus spear diagonally across each slice of bread with tip protruding and roll up.
  • Asparagus with Mayonnaise: Serve warm asparagus spears with a good quality (preferably homemade) mayonnaise for a simple start to a dinner or as an easy lunch dish.
  • Asparagus with Poached Eggs & Hollandaise: A vegetarian version of Eggs Benedict, use asparagus instead of ham or smoked salmon. Top a slice of toasted sourdough or ciabatta with a poached egg, accompany with steamed asparagus, drizzle with hollandaise sauce and scatter with snipped chives. A great spring bunch or lunch.

Happy cooking and eating.

Information and recipes by Rachel Blackmore