publication date: Mar 24, 2011
author/source: Fiona Beckett
Asparagus is already in the shops - earlier than ever this year thanks to the unseasonally warm weather. Look for it in farmers' markets - it will (annoyingly) probably cost slightly more than it does when flown in from Spain but I promise you it’s worth it. Don’t be put off by spears that look uneven and wonky or even very thin - they taste just as good.
If you haven’t cooked asparagus before here are two easy ways to do it.
Steamed (or microwaved) asparagus
Cut or snap off the hard, woody ends of the stalks (about two thirds of the way down from the tip, where they begin to change colour). Put the trimmed spears in a steamer and cook for three to four minutes depending how thick they are. Alternatively put them in a microwaveable dish with a couple of tablespoons of water, cover with cling film, pierce the film in a couple of places then microwave on high for a similar period. Serve warm with melted butter (or, very good this, dunked into a soft-boiled egg) or cool slightly, dress with a vinaigrette (French-style salad dressing such as the one here) or cut up and mix into a salad (asparagus is great with almost any seafood such as prawns or tuna and with goats cheese)
Grilled (or barbecued) asparagus
Some people put asparagus straight onto the grill but I like to part-cook it first, using the above method but reducing the cooking time to 2-3 minutes depending on the thickness of the spears. Then heat a ridged grill or frying pan until very hot, almost smoking. Roll the spears in olive oil then put them on the grill (they’ll sizzle like mad) and cook them for another 2-3 minutes, turning them regularly so they get evenly charred. You can also do this on a barbecue if you have one going.
Tip the grilled spears onto a serving plate, drizzle over some olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar if you have some (a few drops of wine or cider vinegar will do, if not) and season with salt and pepper. If you have a block of parmesan or grana padano handy and a vegetable peeler you could scatter a few shavings of parmesan over it.
How much to buy: One 500g bunch will serve two as a starter or light meal or four as a veg or added to a salad.