Ollie’s Asparagus hints and tips

Green asparagus is synonymous with the English Summer. Vegetables are rarely considered to be luxury items these days, but asparagus has always been the aristocrat of the vegetable aisle. These days it is more common and invariably imported, but the English and French are by far the best. The asparagus from Secrett’s is freshly picked and absolutely delicious. I actually went to school with Greg Secrett, who now runs the farm near Milford, so I’m very happy to now use their lovely vegetables in my cooking. This week: not so much a recipe as a simple guide to cooking them.

To prepare green asparagus, bend the bases until they naturally snap, then trim to neaten the ends.

If you have a juicer (and a spare 10 mins), save all the ends and juice them, then mix with some chardonnay vinegar or lemon juice, salt and olive oil for a delicious dressing.

I personally think there is no benefit to peeling asparagus, especially for home cooking. Just remove the ‘thistles’ on the side until you get to the tip.

To blanch, have a very large pan of rapidly boiling salted water (15g salt for every litre of water), then add the asparagus and cook for 2 mins for thin and 3 mins for thick asparagus. As you add the asparagus the temperature of the water will drop. The greater the volume of water, the less the temperature will drop. Keep on a high heat but make sure the water returns quickly to a fast simmer rather than a rolling boil, as the latter can cause the tips of the asparagus to break.

I prefer to remove with a slotted spoon rather than pouring the contents of the pan through a colander; this is much gentler on the vegetables. Finally, roll them in plenty of salted butter. If you like, add some chopped chervil or parsley, or a warmed clove of crushed garlic with the butter (just to mellow the flavour first). It is also lovely adding some dried camomile to the butter and warming though prior to tossing with the asparagus (just empty half a teabag into the butter). You can serve with hollandaise or a homemade pesto, but for me, simply with butter has the most bang for buck.

For something different, grill on the barbecue from raw. Just roll them in a little oil and salt first, or on a chargrill pan. Delicious with some ricotta, a dressing made from honey, lemon and olive oil, some black olives and toasted pine nuts.

Or bake in butter in a tinfoil parcel. You will lose some of the vibrant green, but the result is incredibly indulgent. If butter isn’t your thing, then use virgin rapeseed oil instead.



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