Saturday, 5 May 2007
....is well and truly here! One of the few seasonal products - strawberries being another - where the arrival of the real thing is actually worth celebrating, and one can stop being fooled by the pretty-but-tasteless fakes that we get offered all winter, and which all-but fool us into forgetting what the wonderful taste of these things really is.
I don't know why, but in the UK we don't seem to shout about the arrival of seasonal asparagus in the way that they do in other countries. In years gone by, when I had to attend the Basle annual jewellery fair (which, by the way, is a whole story in itself!), I remember it generally coincided with the arrival of the first of the asparagus crop, and the enthusiasm on the part of the locals to sample that year's Spargel was easily as great as used to be the case in London for the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau (which I confess I always thought a slightly silly thing to do, anyway). And again, in another business incarnation, we were in Munich doing business with the owner of a Chocolate School, and the conclusion of negotiations involved him insisting that we all go off and sample the arrival of the new asparagus, which we duly did at four in the afternoon - only to meet friends for dinner that same evening, who insisted equally on going off to do exactly the same thing only four hours later. I don't think I minded, but it probably confirmed the image I already had of Munich as a centre of eccentricity and decadence.
Asparagus is one of the foods that is best left entirely to its own devices, and mucked around with as little as possible. I don't even bother shaving the ends off before cooking it - which probably consigns me to cooking hell - but instead leave people to sort out the point at which they don't want to go any further, and leave the ends at the side of their plate. I don't use one of those complicated vertical asparagus steamers, but merely cook the asparagus in plenty of boiling salted water (generally in my largest saute pan, with the lid on) testing it for done-ness at the first hint of cooked asparagus assailing my nostrils. As a method, it works. Then, melted butter if I'm feeling lazy, and Hollandaise if I'm not. Other than that, Asparagus makes sense in a risotto, but I can't see the point of roasting it, or of using it in any of the other ways that people have devised over the years, seemingly in need of a way further to justify its existence. To my way of thinking, it is well-justified without any further effort.
And for those who need any further explanation, I can only refer them to 'Love in the Time of Cholera', in which the central character cites asparagus as his favourite food for reasons that will strike a chord in the minds of all asparagus lovers everywhere. That moment several hours later, when one wrinkles one's nose and says in recognition 'Ah, yes.....I did have asparagus for supper, I'd entirely forgotten...!'
Boudin Blanc, lightly sauteed, with a Cream and Truffle sauce
Onglet, grilled, served with Mushrooms and Shallots.