After my last story about steaming hot winter food it is excellent to be able to change direction completely and write about a bit of crunch and the signal of springtime.
The first asparagus spears have popped through the soil and have been sliced off and into a dish or two of delicious freshness.
It was a bit of a hunt to find asparagus in the shops but I had to have it and found it. It is probably North Island asparagus, where it is a bit warmer, but undoubtedly it is Kiwi and heralds in the springtime of 2013. It tasted delicious. Equally delicious is the changing season and asparagus is always the forebearer of many months of lighter, crisper, brighter foods.
It is interesting that we only seem to really get green asparagus here even though purple and white are equally good. White asparagus is prized in Europe and has a more delicate, less herbaceous flavour than green. From time to time you see it in the market so do try it if you can get it.
I have written about asparagus before and discussed the virtues or not of peeling them (I don't) or snapping or cutting off the tougher base of the stalks (I snap). In the end it doesn't really matter and it is up to you. The key is you want to be rid of the very base of the stalk which can be stringy and tough - the fresher and younger it is the less string involved.
It is also important to cook spears of similar proportions - if you don't some will be overcooked and some undercooked so select your spears with that in mind. The asparagus should look lively when you buy it. The tips should be tightly shut and the spears should be firm and moist.
Only ever cook it until it has a hint of softness and is still bright green. Like other green vegetables such as broccoli there is a point where things change very quickly from bright green to olive green and mushy. You have to be very attentive and remember that these vegetables will keep cooking for a minute or two off the heat. I still like grilled asparagus the best. Five minutes under the grill with a little extra virgin olive oil and I am a very happy woman.
Childhood memories of asparagus rolls, with olive green, mushy, slightly slimy asparagus flash by me, hopefully to be avoided forever more. Instead try a 2013 asparagus roll. Make a mayonnaise with extra lemon juice plus the zest of a lemon, finely chopped. Quickly cook some asparagus spears in boiling salted water. I lay my asparagus out flat in my cast iron pan that is a perfect fit. Refresh the asparagus in icy cold water and set aside while you cut off the crusts of some fresh, white, good quality bread. Add a good dollop of mayo to each slice of bread and spread it out. Cut a spear of asparagus in two and place over the mayo. Roll it up and savour the flavours!
For a twist on that add a thin slice of smoked salmon under the asparagus. Smoked salmon and asparagus are wonderful partners. Try another option with salmon. Make a salad of hot smoked salmon with steamed asparagus, avocado slices and thin slices of green pepper. Dress it with a lemon vinaigrette.
PAPRIKA CHICKEN AND ASPARAGUS SALAD
1 tsp of paprika
1 clove of garlic
Juice of a lemon
2 Tbsp of grated parmigiano reggiano
1 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
1 large chicken breast
300g of asparagus spears
½ a small fennel bulb thinly sliced
1 cup of rocket leaves
½ cup of cooked green peas
¼ cup of toasted pine nuts (baked in a hot oven on a dry pan until they turn golden)
6-8 tsp of soft goat's cheese (I use Meadowcroft)
Dressing: Made of 3 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, 1 Tbsp of lemon juice, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Make a paste of the paprika, garlic, lemon juice, parmigiano and oil. Spread over the chicken breast. Bake in a 180 degrees Celsius oven for about 20-30 minutes until cooked. Remove from the oven and let it rest.
Snap off the ends of the asparagus spears and steam until just tender. Refresh in cold water and set aside.
Put the oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper in a large serving bowl and mix well. Add the sliced fennel bulb, rocket and cooked peas. Slice the chicken breast into bite size pieces and add to the dish. Slice the asparagus in half and add to the dish. Sprinkle over the pine nuts and toss. At the last minute add the spoonfuls of goat's cheese.
GRILLED ASPARAGUS WITH ANCHOVY AND LEMON
1 shallot finely chopped
50g of anchovies
Juice of a lemon
2 Tbsp of chopped Italian parsley
200g of asparagus spears
2 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a small pan add oil and saute the shallot until it starts to caramelise. Add the anchovies and over low heat cook until the anchovies begin to dissolve. Add the lemon juice and the parsley.
Place the asparagus spears (with the bottoms snapped off) on a grill tray and add the extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. Grill under high heat for about 5 minutes until the edges of the asparagus start to turn golden but the spears are still slightly firm.
Remove from the oven and arrange on a serving dish with the anchovy and lemon over the centre of the asparagus.