My personal favourite way of presenting asparagus is also probably the easiest;
Freshly cooked asparagus – 4 – 5 spears per person
Good quality butter
Freshly ground black pepper
A sprinkle of sea salt
If you have a suitably deep container to keep the asparagus upright then it is best cooked that way – the stems need longer to soften while the tips are best cooked in the steam above. About 20 minutes in gently boiling water should do it. Steaming is probably preferable. Allow 6 – 8 minutes [ less if the asparagus is thin]. Then drain well on kitchen paper.
Try it also with Hollandaise Sauce: Now, if you have ever tried to make Hollandaise Sauce you will know that it can be quite tricky and time consuming. However, Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall in his ‘River Cottage Veg, everyday’ which my son-in-law bought me for Christmas [a wonderful book, do buy it if you can afford it!] has come up with an easy method – as he calls it ‘ a cheaty hollandaise’ ( Melt 150gm butter and whisk it, a little at a time, into an egg yolk until it has a loose consistency, like mayonnaise. Whisk in a generous squeeze of lemon juice and season with a pinch of salt and some pepper.) Of course, this recipe is also good for lots of other vegetables and dishes.
Asparagus is also excellent with a variety of other sauces:
Asparagus in Almond Sauce [from Finca las Encinas – if you can, do book in for a course on cooking there – a truly memorable experience – www.finca-las-encinas.com or firstname.lastname@example.org ]
1 small ripe tomato
½ small head garlic, unpeeled
50 – 60 g slivered blanched almonds
½ tsp sherry vinegar
60 ml extra virgin olive oil
375g asparagus, ends snapped off
* Roast the tomato and garlic in the oven 180ºC/Gas 4 for 15 minutes
* Peel the tomato and the garlic cloves.
* Toast the almonds on a baking sheet until golden for about 4 minutes.
* Add tomato, garlic and almonds, vinegar and salt to a food processor or blender until very smooth. Continue mixing. Slowly add the olive oil until it appears like mayonnaise. Taste for salt.
* Grill the asparagus on an oiled skillet or griddle, occasionally turning, for about 10 minutes.
* Serve immediately topped by the almond sauce.
Asparagus with cheese sauce
1 bunch of asparagus – preferably freshly cut, washed and trimmed
For the Sauce
50gm [2 oz] butter
50gm [2 oz] plain flour
250ml [½ pt] milk
75gm [3oz] grated cheddar cheese
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper
• Steam the asparagus spears.
• Melt the butter in a saucepan with the salt and pepper.
• Add the flour and cook until a roux is reached [ don’t allow the mixture to brown or burn!]
• Gradually add the milk, stirring all the time until the milk has been worked into the mixture without lumps – stirring all the time!
• Bring to the boil and boil for 1 minute.
• Add half of the cheese and stir in until the cheese has melted.
* Season to taste
• Spoon the sauce over the cooked asparagus in an ovenproof dish.
• Sprinkle the remainder of the cheese over the sauce and asparagus.
• Cook under a grill until the cheese is lightly browned and serve.
recipe by M McCartney
For the pastry: [alternatively, use a packet of ready-made pastry]
175g [6 oz] plain flour
75g [3oz] butter
Approx 1 tsp cold water for each oz of flour – add with caution, you may need a little more or slightly less.
• Sieve the flour and salt and rub in the butter using your finger tips until the mixture is like fine breadcrumbs.
• Work in the water until the mixture forms a dough – don’t add too much water or the pastry will shrink and will be tough.
• Roll out the pastry and use it to line a 20cm [8in] flan dish or similar.
• Bake the pastry ‘blind’ (use a sheet of greaseproof paper and baking beans to keep the pastry flat while it is cooking) - 190ºC or No 5 gas, until the pastry is lightly golden – 10 – 15 minutes[don’t over cook as it will be baked again with the filling.]
For the filling:
4 medium eggs
4 Tblsp milk or single cream
1 large onion
25g butter[1 oz] butter to ‘sweat’ the onions
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 good sized bunch of asparagus spears
110g [4 oz] grated cheddar or gruyère cheese – or any cheese which will melt when cooked (although I like blue stilton or gorgonzola on top of a quiche, in this case the flavour would overwhelm that of the asparagus, it is better to use a milder flavoured cheese)
• I usually use the asparagus uncooked as it will be cooked in the quiche, However, if you wish, you can steam it lightly beforehand for 3-4 minutes, then drain well.
• Slice the onions and fry gently in the butter, without colour, until they are soft – sweating.
• Whisk the eggs and milk or cream together, add the salt and pepper and add a little of the grated cheese.
• Place the sweated onions into the base of the par-cooked pastry and arrange the asparagus on top. Keep 5 or 6 of the spears to decorate the top.
• Pour in the egg mix the sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top. Arrange the asparagus on top.
• Bake in a preset oven 170ºC or Gas 4 until the filling has set well and the cheese is golden brown. Serve with mixed salad and brown bread.
recipe by M McCartney