After an unusually mild winter, spring is up to its usual tricks. Whether warm, wet, windy, dry, cold, still or snowy, or the whole jolly lot thrown at us in the space of a few days, the upshot for the home cook is the same.
What on earth shall I cook tonight?
Tired of winter stews and whiskery root vegetables, we long for something fresh and green. Right on cue comes asparagus, a vegetable so easy to use and so versatile that you can quickly whip up something to suit the weather.
You can steam it, grill it, roast it, crumb it, stir-fry it, pop it on a pizza or make it into a creamy soup. It can be added to omelettes, frittatas, quiches, crepes, souffles and sauces or sliced into a salad, bearing in mind that raw asparagus doesn't have much flavour.
Cultivated from wild species since early Roman times, its upright spears still demand careful tending and harvesting by hand, hence the hefty price-tag when the first bunches appear. As the season peaks towards mid-summer and prices drop, we can gorge ourselves.
The less done to asparagus, the better. A great way to enjoy its unique leafy flavour is to steam spears until just tender, about 4-5 minutes depending on thickness, and pour over melted butter or hollandaise sauce. Serve lukewarm and eat with the fingers.
Hollandaise is tricky for a novice cook, so try the cheat's version (without eggs) first. Whisk a little lemon juice into melted butter and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, tasting as you go.
To make a hearty warm salad, boil 500g scrubbed small waxy potatoes until tender, simmer 6 eggs until just hard, about 6 to 7 minutes, and steam or boil 500g asparagus for 4 to 5 minutes.
For the dressing, whisk juice and zest of 1 orange into 5 Tbsp good olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Gently combine dressing with warm potatoes, halved boiled eggs and asparagus in a serving dish and scatter over finely chopped mint or chives.
Nigel Slater roasts asparagus with pancetta, but smoked bacon is just as good. Steam or boil required quantity of asparagus until just tender, drain thoroughly, then lay the spears in a shallow baking dish.
Melt a large knob of butter in a pan and fry as much chopped bacon as you like until it's fat is golden. Tip the lot over asparagus, sprinkle with shaved parmesan and bake at 200 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes or until the cheese has melted.
Today's recipe is another warm salad, for the simple reason they are such a great spring thing.
You can use frozen peas and broad beans; just blanch the shelled beans in boiling water for a minute and the skins will slip off easily. Serve as a first course or with freshly baked wholemeal rolls for a simple yet delicious lunch.
WARM ASPARAGUS SALAD (serves 4)
500g fresh asparagus
175g young peas
175g young broad beans
4 Tbsp olive oil
juice of half a lemon
1 Tbsp wholegrain mustard
1 tsp runny honey
salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g rocket leaves
Method: Wash asparagus and trim off any tough ends.
Boil or steam the vegetables for 5 to 6 minutes or until just tender.
Whisk olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, honey and seasoning until combined.
Drain vegetables and toss in the dressing while they are still warm.
Serve on a bed of rocket leaves.
- © Fairfax NZ News