Asparagus is one of my all time top 5 favorite vegetables (in case you’re wondering the others are, in no particular order, spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms and eggplant, and they’ll all hopefully get their own blog post sooner or later). There’s nothing quite like the first few bunches of spindly asparagus spears appearing at the markets (or in your fruit and vegetable box) to welcome spring and all the amazing seasonal eating that comes with it. I invariably get quite excited by the prospect of hot weather salads, asparagus omelets and bright green spears lined up along the barbecue. By the time the season reaches it’s end however, and the asparagus spears have grown plump and sweet, the novelty tends to wear off slightly, the beauty of this being that after the long wait in between seasons all off that excitement of spring and asparagus returns the following year, and I’m like a kid on christmas again. It’s a beautiful cycle really, and one of the reasons seasonal eating is so rewarding.
Along with being the bearer of the good news that Spring has finally sprung, asparagus is a wonderful vegetable in so many other ways. It contains a whole range of nutrients to help prevent nasty things such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, infertility and birth defects (so it is great for pregnant women and couples trying to conceive). It has anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties as well as boosting kidney performance and improving the removal of waste and excess fluid from the body.
In case you’re looking for more reasons to start making the most of Asparagus season, it’s also a joy to cook with, can be partnered with a whole host of delicious-in-their-own-right foods and takes the smallest amount of time to prepare.
The first step in dealing with Asparagus is to snap off the woody ends. Do this by bending the stalk near the bottom, it should snap off where it needs to. If it takes a bit of encouragement and doesn’t snap straight away your Asparagus is probably not as fresh as it should be. Once the ends are gone you can proceed to steam, simmer, grill, or roast your Asparagus, and after a next to nothing cooking time (look for bright green tender spears) all you need is a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, or a knob of good quality butter and a light season, and you’re good to go.
Of course that’s just the beginning of the culinary adventures you and your Asparagus can embark on together. Wether in a salad, soup, frittata, risotto or creamy pasta dish Asparagus will sing. It perfectly complements poached or boiled eggs, a whole host of cheeses (shaved parmesan being a standout), lemon, rich creamy sauces, peas, potato, white fish, seafood and herbs such as mint, parsley, basil, oregano and tarragon. Try using roasted spears as soldiers to dip into the runny yolk of a soft boiled egg, or in a spring fresh quiche or frittata with new potatoes, mint and fresh picked peas. Smother delicate steamed Asparagus spears in a Hollandaise or Béarnaise sauce, or pair them with goats cheese and cherry tomatoes on a pizza. Asparagus works amazingly well in a risotto with plenty of lemon zest and fresh baby spinach leaves stirred through, or in a stir-fry with seasonal vegetables and a good dose of chilli and garlic. The list is seemingly endless, and I’m sure I could go on, but instead i’ll leave you with an easy recipe for a middle eastern take on Asparagus, perfect served as a side dish, or add a few salad leaves and make it a light meal instead.
Steamed asparagus with dukkah and crumbled feta
For the dukkah
1/4 cup blanched almonds
1/4 cup hazelnuts
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper corns
2 tsp salt flakes
NOTE: This makes about 1 cup of dukkah, much more then is needed for this recipe, however it’s great to have on hand to serve with olive oil and crusty bread as an appetizer. It stores well in an air tight jar and is best kept at room temperature. If you’re pushed for time you can purchase a ready made dukkah instead.
For the Asparagus
1 bunch of asparagus (about 6-8 fat spears, or 12 thin spears)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
1 tbsp crumbly feta
To make the dukkah roughly chop or process the hazelnuts and almonds and dry roast in a skillet over a medium heat till just starting to brown. Transfer to a bowl and leave aside to cool. Next dry roast the coriander and cumin till they become fragrant and have just started to darken, and leave aside to cool. Finally dry roast the sesame seeds until just starting to brown and set aside. Using either a mortar and pestle or a food processor pound or chop the nuts until they are finely crushed and are a consistent size. Add the ground pepper and salt and mix through.
Bring a pot of water to the boil and place a steaming basket over the top. Snap woody ends from asparagus and place spears in the basket with a lid on top. Steam for 3-5 minutes depending on the size of the spears until bright green and tender. Transfer to a mixing bowl and pour over olive oil and lemon juice. Add mint leaves and 1 tablespoon of dukkah and mix through to coat. Arrange asparagus onto a serving plate and top with an extra sprinkle of dukkah and the crumbled feta.