Ingredient Focus: Asparagus
Date: 03-07-2018 published by Nick Baines
The true sign of summer isn’t the sloshing of fruit-loaded jugs of Pimms, or the flip-flop wearing customers with lobster pink sunburn, but the arrival of fresh asparagus spears landing in your kitchen.
Jamie Oliver may have guided the unassuming public to the most tender part of asparagus by teaching them that they will naturally snap where the spears turn woody, but this trim or offcut still has flavour potential in the professional kitchen and can increase your yield significantly.
As well as the obvious use in veg stock, the woody parts of asparagus can also be boiled and blended to create a puree or paste. Spread over toasted sourdough, it makes for a burst of grassy freshness and lays a tasty foundation to poached eggs.
Eggs and asparagus are perhaps one of the most powerful flavour combinations going. Posh ‘dippy egg’ can be knocked out with par-boiled or pan-fried asparagus spears instead of toast, but this can be taken up a notch by using duck or goose eggs for increased richness and a little more luxury appeal.
Omelettes are another classic way to go about celebrating the asparagus harvest, but for a more convenient, take-out option you could consider a Spanish tortilla, the layers of potato working to add a little earthiness.
When grilled, asparagus blackens and blisters ceremoniously. The crisp, smoky exterior gives way to a tender, delicately flavoured interior. Outdoor grills or Josper grills naturally deliver great results, but a dry cast iron pan will work just as well. A hit of lemon juice will also help you achieve a
slightly syrupy sticky coating that adds an extra lick of brightness to this champion of the British summertime.
Risotto is a surefire winner at dinner service, particularly with the rise in vegetarian and veganism. Cut on the bias, the asparagus juices leach out into the creamy Italian rice dish.
Asparagus is also partial to a bit of spice, but what’s important to remember is freshness. Fresh red chillies and cracked black pepper is the way to go, but we have seen successful Szechuan Chinese dishes made with the sturdy green plant too.
The classic tart is another iconic way of utilising asparagus, filling a pastry case with a creamy, cheesy filling and pre-roasted asparagus. Taking a peeler to raw spears of asparagus allows you to make the most of their firm texture. Shaved lengthways they work wonderfully in salads and provide a crunchy seasonal addition to trendy Buddha bowls.
Asparagus is one of the most exciting ingredients in the calendar and one that both chefs and diners look forward to. It’s always going to make your wee smell funny, but that’s what asparagus is all about right?
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