We're here for the spears: asparagus recipes

Date:25-05-2013 07:58:06 read:3

We're here for the spears: asparagus recipes

It’s been a long while coming, but spring is finally here and with it, the first tender, green, delicious asparagus.

Vibrant: Stevie Parle's asparagus with bacon and duck eggs recipe Photo: Andrew Crowley
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  • Recipe

    Cod baked in a bag with asparagus and orange

  • Recipe

    Boiled asparagus with bagna cauda sauce

  • Recipe

    Grilled asparagus with duck eggs, bacon and mustard

  • Recipe

    Asparagus frittata with herbs recipe

The asparagus has finally arrived, and I could not be happier. It has been considered a delicacy for thousands of years: back in Roman times, the emperor Augustus had an asparagus guard, whose job it was to collect his favourite vegetable and bring it to him. This year the season has been so late that I’ve been on the verge of sending a guard of my own off down to the Wye Valley to collect the first spears.

In my copy of Apicius’s collection of Roman recipes from the fourth or fifth century, the importance of cooking asparagus in rapidly boiling water is stressed. The Romans were right. Fresh bright spears need to be cooked fast to retain their vibrancy, and boiling is certainly preferable to steaming (although a hot grill does a great job too, and the delicate asparagus does stand up well to a little charring).

Asparagus and eggs work brilliantly together. Whether you’re just putting a fried egg atop a pile of freshly boiled buttery asparagus, or creating something a little more involved, such as this delicious Italian frittata with asparagus and marjoram, it’s a perfect pairing. My asparagus and duck egg salad is always a hit too, proof that the spears don’t get lost alongside more bolshie partners like bacon, pickles, capers and mustard.

Preparing asparagus is less about how to cook than what sauce to serve it with. I’m not a big fan of classic, rich butter emulsions such as hollandaise. Much more exciting is this northern Italian anchovy sauce, bagna cauda (meaning warm bath in the Piedmontese dialect). It’s one of those sauces that seems so much greater than the sum of its parts, and you can make it to accompany all sorts of things.

Sometimes, particularly later in the season, I use asparagus as an accompaniment rather than the main dish. This might seem a little extravagant – although the price does drop after a few weeks – but it’s worth it. The cod cooks in the bag with the asparagus and they exchange their delicate flavours beautifully. Seasoned with orange, thyme and chilli, it produces a simple but classy dinner. That’s pretty much the essence of asparagus: simple and classy. A doddle to cook, too.

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