Thursday, 4 September 2008


The first asparagus in our garden always gets away.
As the weather warms a vigilant eye is cast on the well-mulched bed that hides this herald of spring, but each year the first spears, cheeky and defiant shoot early as if to say ‘catch me if you can’. They grow at such a rate that if not picked within a day or so their real sweetness and tenderness is easily lost.
Asparagus is truly a vegetable where size does matter. None of your baby this and baby that, thick fat asparagus is prized. So much so that all the first grade product is exported. The marketing spin-doctors have even tried to sell us the idea that scrawny thin spears are the go.
Sometimes really fat asparagus is in the market at a very good price but you will notice a little bend at the top…rejected from export. Second grade but still wonderful. Look for tight young heads that have not started to open at all.
To start a bed you can buy two year old crowns but it will take another two seasons before it really starts to thicken up. But then, if you take care, the bed will keep you and your friends in fat tumescent spears for more than a decade.
Then you are faced with a different problem.
White? green? purple? or wild?
Do you eat them with butter or oil? Vinaigrette or Hollandaise? Grilled or poached? Soup or salad?
Whichever method you choose will have one thing in common- speed. They cook very quickly. Some cookbooks tell you to snap the top from the base and they will break at the point where they begin to be tender. I am a little greedier and cut them lower and peel the base of the stalk. Not only do you get more but also they will cook evenly and the top and button will be equally tender cooking at the same time. No need to tie them in bundles and cook them standing up in the pot.

White asparagus is prized by some; it is grown in deep mulch.
Thick white asparagus has to be peeled all the way as the skin can be very stringy. The purple is exceptionally tasty but turns green on cooking. Wild asparagus is usually an escapee from an old vegetable garden. I have only seen it in one spot around here near the old disused railway line that used to haul the logs to Birregurra from the Otways. It has a small tip is quite thin but has a wonderful strong flavour that only wild produce can give.
Asparagus goes well with eggs, cheeses like a Heidi Gruyere or Raclette.
But for me the best way to enjoy them is with a simple dressing. Butter with a touch of lemon? Olive oil? a touch of vinegar, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Nothing to prove just great home grown ingredients simply served.
The broad beans are not far away!


Ed said...

Yes, so right fat and fresh are the best just simple like you said. I can't stand those wispy things. I'm loking forward to the beans and the next trip.

stickyfingers said...

Oooh...How exciting! I'm looking forward to grabbing my first bunches for the season from farmer Gordon Jones tomorrow at the St.Kilda Veg Out Farmers Market. I had a long chat with him about the fickleness of the plant and fungus issues a couple of weeks ago - fascinating.

My first bunch usually is blanched and served with a poached duck egg from farmer 'Swampy' Marsh of Warrnambool. The second bunch is stir fried with wood fungus and the third quickly char grilled.

Pete said...

Yum! Your mention of asparagus with Heidi Farm Raclette Cheese is quite interesting, especially as Raclette Australia have two asparagus recipes in their cookbook Insider's Guide to Raclette, which is a very interesting read.

But perhaps you did read it already? If not, you can order it from them directly or get it in Melbourne at Walma's Smallgoods in Bayswater.

It is mainly about using a raclette grill for cooking and entertaining guests. I think you'd be interested in something like that!

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Nice try Pete but its NOT my idea of a useful gadget. A for initiative though.

Ran said...

do you have possum/ wallaby issues with your asparagus?? I am tossing up whether i should attempt setting up a asparagus bed this year or if it will just be food for the wildlife. I love asparagus. On an omelette with gruyerre and smoked salmon. ON the bbq. With lots of lemon and a sprinkling of pinenuts.

I picked up broadbeans at my local greengrocer the other day. I was so excited. I make them arabic style as my family used to (sometimes for breakfast). I am so jealous of your garden.

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Hi ran
we have no problem with land based wildlife here only a lot of cheeky birds, asparagus is one of those crops that keep on keeping on so if you can fence it I would most certainly plant them. You will reap the rewards for many years.

Thermomixer said...

Might have to organise for a broad bean, asparagus and artichoke cooking class