Asparagus at its best

Talk about Christmas, the wonderful asparagus season has come round quickly again.   Most ‘foodies’ think it sacrilege to savour these unique and delectable young stalks with anything other than melted salted butter – and I agree with them.   Just chop off the toughest end of each stalk and gently simmer in water for about five minutes – you don’t want them going mushy on you.

It’s also very nice to serve them with home-made hollandaise (definitely not a supermarket sachet).   This is easy to make and shows you are a proper cook.   Set a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk  in 3 or 4 egg yolks, a splash of water,  a little mustard, salt, pepper and the juice of a lemon.  Finally add 6 fl.oz. of melted butter.

Served with salad ingredients such as baby lettuce leaves, peeled quail’s eggs, tomato or cucumber slices, grated carrot or mild parma ham, this makes an eye-catching starter. Cheat by adding a little sugar and lemon juice to a good bottled vinaigrette and they’ll never know.

Not until the end of the season (mid summer) need you incorporate older asparagus into a dish such as a mousse or soup – but both of these are a little 1960’s for me, as well as a bore to make.   Having said that, if you add chopped fresh cooked asparagus to a good tin of asparagus soup and top with a dollop of sour cream it looks very appetising.

Wrapping a short spear of asparagus in Parma or Serrano ham and arranging on a plate round a pot of dipping sauce or mayonnaise makes an impressive canapé.   Final tip of the week: put a pinch of bicarbonate of soda in the water when cooking asparagus or Brussels sprouts and they will keep their lovely fresh green colour.

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