Asparagus

Whether you choose white or green asparagus, for cooking them, simplest is best. Here are some ideas…

I love my ridged grill pan (IKEA’s best) for asparagus: trim green (or peel white), lay them in the pan, anoint with olive oil, scatter with salt crystals and give them 8-10 minutes on high heat, shaking the pan often so they roll about and cook evenly. Or stick them in the oven with the grill on full blast. Serve with best prosciutto, jamón or Black Forest ham

Or cut asparagus in short lengths, toast some baguette slices and make asparagus bruschette with a smear of cream cheese and a bit of ham
or serve with a scattering of tiny cubes of bacon, like this:

Sticking with the ridged grill pan theme, cut the asparagus in short lengths and thread them onto skewers with cubes of swordfish, as below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WILD GARLIC SOUP WITH ASPARAGUS
A brilliant green soup for spring which combines the pungent wild garlic with green asparagus, with a shot of cream to soften things up.
Makes about 2 litres/8 cups, serving 6-10 depending on portion size
2 good handfuls wild garlic leaves
500g green asparagus
1.5 litres water + 1 tsp salt
250ml whipping cream (Schlagrahm/crème fraîche liquide)
25g butter
4 large floury potatoes, peeled and cubed
salt and pepper
garnish: asparagus tips, prawns, wild garlic flowers

  • Remove stalk ends from garlic leaves and chop roughly
  • Snap off the woody ends of white or green asparagus (peel white asparagus). Cut either sort in 4-5 cm lengths
  • Bring the salted water to a boil and cook garlic for 5 minutes
  • Lift out the leaves with a slotted spoon and set them aside
  • Add the potato cubes to the pan, simmer for 10 minutes, add the trimmed asparagus and cook 5-10 minutes more till both potatoes and asparagus are soft
  • Fish out 6-8 asparagus tips and reserve them for the garnish
  • Put wild garlic leaves back in the pan with the cream, blend everything together with a hand-held blender
  • Bring soup back to the boil and season to taste
  • Serve in bowls or small coffee cups garnished with reserved asparagus tips, prawns/shrimp or wild garlic flowers

ESPARRAGOS A LA PLANCHA CON SALSA ROMESCO
Grilled asparagus with romesco sauce

Romesco is a very more-ish sauce from Catalunya, based on toasted nuts, tomatoes, garlic, a little chile and olive oil. It goes wonderfully with any grilled vegetables, fish or meat. I recently sampled this glorious combination of asparagus and romesco as an appetiser at the Hostal Sport in Falset (Priorat), but it also makes a mean tapa.

Serves 8-10 as part of a mixed tapas table or 4 as a starter
50g peeled almonds + 15g hazelnuts
1 slice baguette-type bread, crusts removed
1 tbsp vinegar
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2-3 tomatoes
1 fresh red or green chile, de-stemmed, halved & seeded
3 tbsp olive oil
1 kg asparagus (white or green) – about 18-20 spears
sea salt
1 tbsp olive oil

  • For salsa, put almonds and hazelnuts in a small baking tin and toast in a 200oC oven for 8-10 minutes or until almonds are golden and the hazelnuts toasty and fragrant – watch that they don’t burn
  • Rub skins off hazelnuts, put almonds/hazelnuts in the liquidizer/food processor and leave them to cool
  • Sprinkle the bread with vinegar in a little dish and leave till soft
  • Put unpeeled garlic cloves, tomatoes and chile on a griddle or heavy ungreased frying pan and heat steadily till garlic is soft and the skin blotchy, the tomatoes and the chile nicely blistered
  • Slip the garlic cloves out of their skins, quarter the tomatoes (leave skins on) and roughly chop the chile
  • Blitz the cooled nuts in the liquidizer/food processor to a coarse powder, add the tomatoes, garlic, chile and a pinch of salt and blend to a paste. Add the soaked bread and blend again
  • Through the hole in the funnel add the olive oil in a steady stream till the sauce emulsifies and turns a pale orangey-red
  • Turn salsa into a small dish and cover with clingfilm till needed – keeps several days in the fridge
  • Peel white asparagus/trim green asparagus, lay in a roasting tin or ridged grill pan, sprinkle with salt and olive oil
  • Heat grill/broiler to maximum and grill for 10-15 minutes or until asparagus is tender when pierced with a sharp knife and lightly flecked with gold
  • Serve with the salsa romesco

WARM SALAD OF GRILLED ASPARAGUS AND COURGETTES WITH CHERRY TOMATOES AND HERBY OIL DRESSING

This warm salad, inspired by a recipe from the Ottolenghi cookbook, is a riot of colour and flavour: brilliant green asparagus spears and long slices of courgettes are seared in a ridged grill pan (IKEA has them in various sizes), cherry tomatoes are halved and baked in a cool oven to concentrate the flavour and the whole lot comes together with a herby dressing. Add some soft fresh goat’s cheeses or feta and it becomes a veggie main course. Or make it a centrepiece of the buffet arranged around a piece of salmon (barbecued or salt-cooked, one side only), or sliced rare beef or barbecued chicken.

Serves 4-6
350g cherry tomatoes
a sprinkling of olive oil
salt and pepper
500g green asparagus (about 24 spears)
2 large courgettes (ca. 500g)
Herby oil dressing
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 small clove garlic (preferably new season’s), crushed
a bunch/packet of tender herbs (e.g. chervil,  flat-leaf parsley, basil), leaves only, finely chopped
juice of ½ lemon
salt and pepper

  • Heat the oven to 170C
  • Halve the cherry tomatoes, place them in a single layer, cut sides uppermost, on a baking tray lined with baking parchment
  • Sprinkle with salt, pepper and olive oil and bake for about 1 hour until rather deflated and a little coloured. Set tomatoes aside.
  • Snap the woody ends off asparagus spears and cut courgettes into thin lengthwise slices about ½ cm thick
  • Roll asparagus spears and turn courgette slices in olive oil in a big dish
  • Heat a ridged grill pan ferociously and grill the asparagus till just tender and lightly charred (about 6-8 minutes), rolling them around in the pan to ensure even grilling; cut in half or in thirds and put in a serving dish
  • Grill courgette slices until just wilted, turning once (about 3 minutes each side); cut slices in 3 pieces and add to asparagus
  • Mix the cooked cherry tomatoes into the asparagus and courgettes
  • For the herby oil dressing, mix or blend together the oil, garlic, herbs, lemon juice and salt and pepper and pour over warm vegetables

ASPARAGUS TIMBALES
A simple starter, done in a flash, and which can be prepared a day or two ahead. White or green asparagus is cooked, liquidized with cream, cream cheese and gelatine, turned into lightly oiled ramekins and chilled till set. You can garnish the timbales with a little chopped ham, or extra asparagus spears.

Serves 8
1kg white or green asparagus
salt and a pinch of sugar
6 sheets gelatine or 1 envelope powdered gelatine
150ml crème fraîche épaisse
150g low-fat cream cheese with herbs (e.g. Boursin, Tartare)
salt and pepper
salad leaves and ham strips to garnish

  • White asparagus will have to be peeled; green need only have the tough ends snapped off
  • Cook the trimmed asparagus in boiling, salted water with a pinch of sugar for 15-20 minutes or until tender
  • Soak the gelatine in cold water until floppy (or sprinkle the powdered gelatine onto a little water in a small cup and leave till spongy)
  • When the asparagus is ready, remove it and reserve 250ml of the cooking water
  • Put this in a small pan, add the squeezed out gelatine sheets (or soaked gelatine powder) and stir till dissolved.
  • Reserve a few asparagus tips for the garnish
  • Roughly chop the rest of the asparagus and put it in the blender with the hot melted gelatine, the cream and the cream cheese
  • Blend till smooth
  • If wished, push the mixture through a sieve to remove any fibres, pressing down hard to extract all juice
  • Lightly brush some ramekins with oil and pour in the asparagus mixture – it will be quite liquid
  • Chill till firm
  • Run a small knife around the timbales and turn them out onto plates
  • Garnish with the reserved asparagus tips, ham (if wished) and a little salad

SALADE DE ‘FLEISCHSCHNACKA’ AU JAMBON ET AUX ASPERGES

A variation on the Alsace theme of asparagus and ham: brik leaves (feuilles de brik) are lined with jambon cru,  filled with asparagus, rolled up and baked till crisp, then sliced and served over a salad.

Serves 6-8
Dressing
150ml olive oil
50ml vinegar
salt and pepper
1 tsp coarse-grain mustard
a pinch of sugar
12-14 green or 6-8 white asparagus spears
6-8 large slices (ca 200g) thinly sliced prosciutto
3-4 brik leaves
olive oil
assorted salad leaves (oakleaf, lollo, rocket etc.)
parsley and chives to garnish

  • Put all the ingredients for the dressing in a jam jar with lid and shake well to emulsify
  • Trim the asparagus spears and cook them in boiling salted water for 5 minutes or until barely tender
  • Drain, refresh in cold water and allow them to cool
  • Brush each brik leaf with olive oil, cut in half and lay a prosciutto slice on top
  • Place two green (or one white) asparagus spears at one side of the brik leaf and roll up tightly
  • Chill the rolls
  • Shortly before serving, heat the oven to 200oC and brush the rolls with more olive oil
  • Bake the rolls for 10-12 minutes or until the pastry is golden and crispy
  • Remove and slice them in 2 cm slices on a slant to give nice spirals
  • Put a bed of salad leaves on each plate and arrange the spirals on top
  • Sprinkle the salads with some dressing and garnish with parsley and chives

ASPARAGUS AND MOREL PIE

A covered pie (tourte) of asparagus and morels, bound together with cream and egg. It makes a good centrepiece, and a delicious lunch dish. If you use ready-rolled out pastry, this speeds things up a bit.

Serves 8
15-20g dried morels
1 kg white asparagus (or 800g green)
300g shortcrust pastry
3 eggs
300ml crème fraîche
1 tbsp flour or Maizena (cornflour)
salt and pepper
300g puff pastry (pâte feuilletée/Blätterteig)
1 egg yolk

  • Soak the morels in cold water for several hours or until soft, then drain them
  • Trim the asparagus, cut in 3 cm pieces and cook for 5 minutes in boiling salted water until barely tender
  • Butter a 30cm quiche tin and heat the oven to 200o C
  • Roll out the shortcrust to a circle a bit larger than the quiche tin (if using ready-rolled, you will need to roll it out so that it’s a bit larger than the tin)
  • Lay it in the quiche tin, leaving an overhanging edge of about 2 cm all around
  • Trim the pastry if necessary
  • Fill the pastry with asparagus and drained morels
  • Mix together the eggs, cream, flour or cornflour and salt and pepper to taste, using a hand blender
  • Pour this mixture over the asparagus and morels
  • Brush the overhanging pastry edge with water and lay the puff pastry on top
  • Press the two pastry edges together to seal, then crimp and roll them into a decorative border all around the circumference of the pie, working anti-clockwise
  • Make decorative markings with the tip of a sharp knife and glaze the top with beaten egg yolk
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 40-45 minutes or until the egg and cream mixture is set
  • Stick a fork or skewer into the centre to see – it should emerge clean
  • Serve the pie at room temperature, with salad

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