Ahhh asparagus… You’re the sneakiest of vegetables, yet we seem to love you for it. This will not be an ode to asparagus, although I could probably write one, yet I’ve already done that with blood oranges and sometimes I think the fruits and vegetables of this world just want our worship. Tell me what (or whom) I need to sacrifice, asparagus-gods, and I will be your faithful servant.
Asparagus, in it’s crisp, contrary form is here today and gone tomorrow in the UK yet it defines spring, no doubt because of that tricky seasonal vacuum in February and March. As a result, no spring meal is complete without a side of asparagus (including breakfast – I’m looking at you poached eggs and hollandaise).
When it’s in its prime, asparagus here is mauve, sturdy and robust, and hopefully at some point in May I can trot along to the local grocers to find it in beguiling bundles. That curious yet striking white asparagus, however, is German and have quite literally been grown without colour. They are kept in the dark either under plastic covers or even underground so those little guys don’t develop chlorophyll. They never feel the warmth of the sun on their… skin?
Some of you may recognise this recipe; traditionally it is served with leeks however I committed an act of blasphemy and slung these herbed, hot and creamy flavours at a vegetable which often needs little decoration. That said, it worked beautifully. There is depth of earthy flavour in these little spears and they aren’t afraid of a competitive tussle on the plate with other bold components.
Who else loves that loud snap when you break off that woody end of the asparagus? I think it’s my favourite part of the whole cooking experience. Which is saying a lot as this is a lovely recipe and easy to make while you ponder other matters – for instance, if you could see one incredible, deceased musician in a mind-blowing concert one last time, who would it be? – as there is little to go wrong, and even if the asparagus is a little over-cooked and floppy, all the flavours compensate.
The dressing is a slurry of wholegrain mustard, red wine vinegar and oil, thickened to an emulsion and spooned over the asparagus. Add diced hard-boiled egg and parsley, and there’s a creamy anise-like flavour, reminiscent of tarragon, and you run the asparagus spear around the plate to mop it all up. Or you eat it off the serving spoon like I did.
And I thought this wasn’t going to be an ode.
Adapted from Simon Hopkinson’s recipe
- 1 bundle or packet of asparagus
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp wholegrain mustard
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 150ml sunflower oil
- A big pinch of fresh parsley
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Put two pans of water on the heat – one wide pan for the asparagus, another little one for the egg.
- Once the little saucepan of water is boiling, slowly lower in the egg and boil it for 7 minutes. Once cooked, drain the water and leave the egg under cold running water until cool to handle. Peel it and set it aside.
- Prepare the asparagus by snapping off the woody ends (yay! my favourite). Season the hot water with some salt and fill a glass or metal bowl with really cold water (add ice if possible). Once the hot water is boiling, blanch the asparagus for 1-2 minutes depending on thickness. Immediately remove the asparagus from the pan and place into the bowl of cold water to refresh and to prevent from over-cooking.
- Make the dressing by mixing together the mustard and vinegar, then whisking in the oil really slowly, like you’re making a mayonnaise. It should quickly thicken. Season with salt and pepper.
- Drain the asparagus and dry it with kitchen towel, and finely chop the egg. Roughly chop the parsley. Serve the asparagus drizzled in dressing and topped with egg and parsley.