Sunday, 5 June 2011

Asparagus - Seasonal Produce

I came across this sign recently on an old building in the Luberon in the south of France and it, along with all the wonderful asparagus available at this time of year, has inspired my latest blog post.  Asparagus is plentiful in Provence and starts to become available in April (you might find it earlier but it is probably Spanish – often still good) through to the end of May.  The English season usually starts in mid-May and lasts about a month, but this year started earlier due to the warm weather. Asparagus should really only be eaten in season and as soon after cutting as possible, that's why  local asparagus always tastes so much better than the asparagus that has been flown half way round the world to meet consumer demand.

White or green asparagus?  In Northern Europe, white asparagus is the preferred choice but in the UK, green is the favourite and you rarely see the  white on sale.  The white asparagus is blanched by depriving the plant of light, a  mound of sand and compost covers the plant.  This makes harvesting more difficult and time consuming, so the white asparagus is always more expensive than the green. I  find the white can be rather woody and takes a lot more cooking.  The photo above shows violet asparagus on a market stall in Aix-en-Provence, the white stems break through the soil and the light turns the stems violet - a French favourite.

To prepare asparagus, snap off the woody end and then use the vegetable peeler on the lower end of the stalks to remove any tough bits.  Steam for a few minutes depending on the thickness - it should be al-dente when you test it with a knife.

Serving ideas

In Holland, white asparagus is served with a slice of ham, a chopped boiled egg, some boiled potatoes sprinkled with parsley and melted butter.

Another idea is to serve it with a soft-boiled egg and melted butter, you can dip the asparagus spears into the egg.   Or, use thin asparagus spears (steamed then refreshed in a bowl of cold water with some ice-cubes) in a salad with a quartered boiled egg and parma ham, toss with a vinaigrette dressing and add some parmesan shavings.

Let me know your favourite way of serving asparagus.

A bientôt, Rebecca.