Asparagus, three ways

Here's a few favourite ways for enjoying asparagus during its short season. The recipes are so simple it might seem silly to write them down, but as I could eat them every day for the whole short season without getting bored, I think they are worth mentioning. 

 

Serves two as a starter

 

Asparagus with lemon and butter

 

My first asparagus of the season is always dressed with lemon and butter. Somehow, olive oil won't do, it almost tastes too floral. To me, butter smells of earth, grassy fields, dairy cows and rich indulgence. The lemon juice provides a lift, highlighting the sweetness of the spears. Finally the salt should have enough texture to give you that satisfyingly salty crunch when you bite down on the soft stems.

 

1 bundle asparagus, around 250g

3-4 thin slices of best quality salted butter, ideally English or Irish

½ lemon, juice only

Flaky sea salt e.g. Maldon

 

Snap off the woody parts of the asparagus by bending each spear near the base. If the stalks are really fat and meaty, I like to shave some of the green skin off with a vegetable peeler, otherwise I don't bother.

 

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, salt liberally and add the asparagus, stems first. Its fine if some of the tips stick out of the water as they will steam nicely. If you have a steamer you could steam the whole lot instead, it only take about a minute longer, if that.

 

While you wait, smear a slice of butter over the centre of your plate(s) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. The asparagus takes 4-5 minutes, depending on the size of the stems. If you fish one out and cut off a piece it should have lost its raw crunch but not be mushy soft.

 

Drain the asparagus well to get rid of excess water. Before serving, rub with the rest of the butter, squeeze lemon juice all over, season again and eat immediately with your fingers.

 

Asparagus with balsamic vinegar (v)

 

I was reading 'Comfort me with apples' by Ruth Reichl on the way back to London. Her description of eating asparagus, dipped in her first taste of 'aceto balsamico', stirred up such a craving I was fidgeting on the plane, fantasising on the tube and rolling my luggage around Waitrose hunting for asparagus shortly after.

 

Use the best balsamic vinegar you can find or afford - it should be, in Ruth's words, 'thick enough to cling' and taste raisiny sweet, balanced with sour vinegar. Definitely avoid the mass produced versions that contain water, sugar, E numbers and colourings, choose one made in Modena and aged for at least twelve years. Riserva di Famiglia, made by Acetaia Dodi is a great option and available in small measures, perfect since a little goes a long way. Right now at home we have a matured balsamic vinegar from The Gift of Oil, which is delicious.

 

1 bundle asparagus, around 250g

Flaky sea salt e.g. Maldon

Aged balsamic vinegar, ideally Tradizionale or similar quality

 

Prepare and cook the asparagus as above. Pour the vinegar into something small and shallow like a soy sauce dish. Plate the asparagus, sprinkle with salt and eat straight away, dipping each stalk as you go.

 

Charred asparagus and prosciutto

 

1 bundle asparagus, around 250g

8 slices prosciutto crudo, I like San Daniele most

Sea salt and black pepper

 

Parboil the asparagus for two minutes and drain them well. Brush the stalks with olive oil and finish them on a barbeque or a cast iron grill pan over a high heat. You could skip the parboiling, but it will take longer and you need to keep the heat medium to low to stop the spears burning before the centres are cooked. I like the contrast of soft stalk and smoky charcoal, which seems easiest to achieve if you boil them first.

 

Season the asparagus and eat while hot, winding half a slice of prosciutto around each stalk so the fat melts and the ham warms.