What’s your favourite spring thing? The longer days? The feeling you get when you put away the Ugg boots for another year? That first ocean dip? For us it’s vegies! Right now we’re spoiled for choice. And asparagus is top of our list.
You could go for classic green stalks, miniature versions, white varieties (which are actually the same plant variety as the green, but grown underground to prevent chlorophyll development) or one of the purple sorts (which are sweeter, but will revert to green when cooked, so if you want to preserve the colour try shaving them and serving them raw).
As for size, the slimmer the stems, the younger the plant it came from. Thicker stalks can be tougher, so peeling or trimming the base helps keep them tender. The miniature ones will cook in a similar way to the full size, but in a quarter of the time.
The best way to store your asparagus is to put them to use as soon as possible. The fresher, the better. If you want to keep a few bunches for later in the week, treat them like a bunch of flowers. Put the trimmed ends into a vase or cup of water standing up then loosely cover the tips with a plastic bag to stop any evaporation and set it on a shelf in the fridge.
There are more ways to serve them than you can poke a spear at. Asparagus is great friends with hard and soft cheeses like ricotta, manchego, parmesan and mozzarella, fats like olive oil and butter, nuts like almonds and hazelnuts, fresh herbs like mint, parsley and tarragon, citrus fruits, Asian sauces like oyster, miso and sweet soy, eggs, hollandaise sauce, aioli and mayonnaise, cured meats, white fish, prawns and proteins like chicken and steak.
Here are a few ways to think about prepping them this week. So, what are you waiting for?
Grilled: Grilling asparagus adds the interest of char marks and a smokey edge to asparagus’s earthy and fresh flavours. Add a little olive oil to the asparagus before you throw it onto a barbecue plate or grill pan and be sure to season it well with salt and pepper once it’s cooked. It’s great as a simple side dish, excellent splayed over grain salads or risotto and really shines when drizzled with nut-brown butter and fresh citrus juice. (Recipe here).
Raw: Finely slicing or shaving asparagus keeps the flavours fresh, the colour vivid and produces a forkable mass that is perfect when dressed with a light vinaigrette and a sprinkle grated hard cheese. Try it as a side salad (recipe here) for grilled proteins or a fried egg, as a topping for bruschettas or pile it on top of pizza (like NYC chef Jim Lahey made famous with his Birds Nest Pizza).
Standing tall (steamed): This method dates back to Ancient Rome. Apicius’ famous historical recipe for cooking asparagus meant you cooked it standing tall in a pot. This works particularly well with thick-stemmed spears, as it gives the bottoms time to soften, but just tenderises the tips with steam. Try serving these dipped in a zippy Provencal inspired dip made from salty anchovies, garlic and olive oil – delicious. (Recipe here).
Stir fried: By stir-frying asparagus, you get a little char from the ‘breath of the wok’, plus delightfully soft stems and the opportunity to marry it together with some of its best flavour friends. Add some garlic, sliced button mushrooms and a little oyster sauce and fresh lime juice and dinner is literally three minutes away. (Recipe here).