Asparagus two ways

We have all become used to having fruit and vegetables available all the year round but I think that there is still a great appeal to buying them when they are in season. The British asparagus season is now in full swing and the shops are piled high with bundles of plump ripe spears which can’t be beaten either for taste or price. After a number of false starts due to the vagaries of the British climate it looks as if it is going to be a bumper crop this year although the season may be shorter than usual so don’t delay; get your asparagus now and start cooking! In Britain green asparagus is by far the most widely available form and white asparagus is relatively rare, not that I mind, I always find that the white asparagus lacks the bite both literally in terms of texture as well as taste of the green form.

Asparagus is a versatile vegetable it can be boiled, grilled, roasted, steamed or fried and it goes so well with so many dishes hot or cold; served hot with hollandaise sauce, boiled new potatoes with a mint and butter dressing and grilled salmon fillet it makes a classic early summer main course. However, in this article I will focus on two simple dishes which make a perfect brunch: Asparagus Spears Wrapped In Smoked German Ham and Poached Eggs With Asparagus or, if you are especially hungry, you can combine the two dishes for a total extravagant mixture of flavours!

Asparagus wrapped in smoked German ham

This simple dish is quick and easy to prepare and is just bursting with flavours and contrasting textures. The smoky saltiness of the ham is the perfect partner for the asparagus (as an aside: for all that I love the taste of asparagus I find it impossible to describe, it is so utterly different to anything else I can think of! Even Google failed to offer any assistance!  Can you find the words to describe the taste of asparagus? If so, be sure to let me know!

Preparation 5 minutes; Cooking time 10 minutes. Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 10 large asparagus spears
  • 6 slices of smoked German ham (Morrisons Smoked, German, Black Forest Ham. 15 slices for £2.59)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • bread for toasting (Ciabatta works well)
  • butter
  • sea salt (Maldon)
  • black pepper (freshly ground in a pestle and mortar – try it; it is so much more pungent this way!)

Method

  1. Preparing the spears is simplicity itself; using both hands hold each spear between your thumbs and forefingers and snap off the lower part of the spear and discard. Rinse the spears under the cold tap, shake and leave to dry on some paper towel (You will often see chefs in TV cookery programmes peeling the stems of asparagus but I don’t see the point providing that the asparagus is young, tender and freshly picked).
  2. Add a glug of olive oil to a large frying pan and using a paper towel wipe the oil over the inside of the pan to create a uniform thin-film.
  3. Place the pan on the stove over a medium-high heat and once it is hot add the asparagus, shuggle the pan every so often in order to ensure that the spears are uniformly browned but take care not to let them burn.
  4. After 5 minutes tip the spears out on to a chopping board, set 4 spears aside and wrap each of the remaining spears in a slice of ham, taking care not to cover the tip of the spear, before returning all of the spears to the pan to cook for a further 3 to 5 minutes again shuggling the pan at regular intervals in order to ensure that the ham is browned on all sides.
  5. While finishing off the asparagus cut 4 slices of Ciabatta and toast and at the same time put two serving plates in the microwave to warm (2 minutes at full power will be ample).
  6. Once the plates have warmed and the toast is done the ham wrapped asparagus spears will be ready to serve
  7. Butter the toasted Ciabatta and place two slices on to each plate and top with the asparagus, 3 wrapped in ham and two plain.
  8. Season with salt and pepper to taste

Serve and enjoy!

Asparagus and poached eggs on toast

Another simple brunch time dish staring asparagus is to serve the freshly cooked spears with poached eggs, or as previously noted above, for a really indulgent brunch the poached eggs can be served with the Asparagus and Smoked German Ham dish described above.

Cooking the perfect poached egg was something that had long eluded me and it was not for want of trying! I always ensured that I had the freshest eggs possible and I bought and tested a variety of poachers as well as trying the whirlpool method but none of them consistently produced the perfect poached egg and then I heard how Heston Blumenthal does it! And no, it doesn’t involve liquid nitrogen!

Preparation 10 minutes; Cooking time 6 minutes. Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 10 large asparagus spears
  • 4 eggs (the fresher the better as the egg white becomes increasingly watery over time and the egg become useless for poaching)
  • White wine vinegar (this helps coagulate the egg white and while not used in Heston’s method I like the flavour it gives to the eggs as well as being an example of my belt and braces approach to cooking – well sometimes at least!).
  • bread for toasting (Ciabatta works well)
  • butter
  • sea salt (Maldon)
  • black pepper (freshly ground in a pestle and mortar – try it; it is so much more pungent this way!)

Method

  1. Fill a large sauce pan with water to a depth of 12 to 15 cm and place on the stove to boil. Keep the lid on the saucepan at this stage, it will boil much more quickly.
  2. At the same time take a second sauce pan and fill it to a depth of 3 or so cms and place the lower half of a double bamboo steamer and its lid in the pan and bring to the boil. (If your steamers are too large for your saucepans use a wok and fill it with water to a depth which just begins to flood into the bottom of the steamer. These steamers really keep the heat as well as providing a moist environment so when serving asparagus as an accompaniment to a main meal the steamer can be placed on the dining table so that people can help themselves).
  3. Meanwhile prepare the asparagus. Using both hands hold each spear between your thumbs and forefingers and snap off the lower part of the spear and discard. Rinse the spears under the cold tap, shake dry and place in the top section of the bamboo steamer (You will often see chefs in TV cookery programmes peeling the stems of asparagus but I don’t see the point providing that the asparagus is young, tender and freshly picked).
  4. While waiting for the water to boil cut the bread for the toast and crack each egg into a cup. Taking each cup in turn carefully pour the egg onto a large skimmer spoon, the sort with round holes rather than slots, and let the wateriest part of the egg white drain through the spoon for a few seconds before gently tipping the egg back into the cup.
  5. Once the water in both pans is boiling place the top half of the steamer containing the asparagus on top of the lower steamer and cover with the lid of the steamer.
  6. Turn the heat off the pan which is to be used for poaching the eggs and add a desert spoonful of white wine vinegar to the water and carefully tip the eggs into the pan by slowly immersing each cup in turn into the water and letting the water flood over and around the egg before finally tipping the egg out into the pan. On an electric cooker there will be enough residual heat in the hob to keep the water temperature just below boiling, with a gas stove the hob should be left on at its      lowest setting.
  7. While the eggs and asparagus are cooking toast the bread and warm the plates for 2 minutes in a microwave at full power.
  8. By the time the toast is done the asparagus and poached eggs will be ready and you can start to plate up. Butter the toast and place a couple of slices of toast on each plate, top with 5 spears of asparagus before topping off with the poached eggs by taking the eggs from the pan one at a time using a skimmer and ensuring that any traces water are removed by dabbing the bottom of the spoon with some paper towel as well as tipping the edge of the spoon against the towel in order to remove any last traces of water before placing them on the asparagus.
  9. Season with salt and pepper to taste

Serve and enjoy!

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2 thoughts on “Asparagus two ways

  1. Asparagus season is truly one of the most delicious times of year! I would honestly be perfectly content just munching on plain roasted asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper, nothing more, nothing less. 🙂

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