Tonight I'm cooking some beautiful spray-free Les Asperges asparagus from the Hamilton Farmers' Market. It must be getting towards the end of the asparagus season. Sometimes mid-week I get tempted to buy asparagus from the supermarket, but we can always tell the difference, it's not as fresh.
Home-grown asparagus is fiddly and requires a special garden bed. I'm very happy to leave it to the experts.
I'm usually lazy about cooking asparagus - I just break the tough ends off and lay the spears flat in a big cast-iron pan, add a small amount of water and steam for a few minutes. Tonight I'm roasting potatoes, so I'll roast the asparagus, with a splash of olive oil. Maybe ten minutes in a moderately hot oven. It's even quicker on the barbecue.
Two great things to do with asparagus
Cream of asparagus soup
This is deliciously retro. Cream of asparagus soup from a packet was my favourite comfort food when I was small. But this is The Real Thing. I assure you, it's worth the effort.
The recipe comes from my trusty copy of The Joy of Cooking, by Irma S. Rombauer, with a few of my own adaptations.
You need a good quality chicken stock to get the best flavour. For a recipe, see my post "Change of Season Chicken Bone Broth" elsewhere on this blog. Or buy a litre of readymade chicken stock if you must.
Wash and remove the tips from 500g asparagus. Simmer the tips in a small amount of milk or water until they are tender. Drain and reserve.
Cut the stalks in pieces and place in a large saucepan.
Add 6 cups chicken stock, 1/4 cup chopped onion and 1/2 cup chopped celery.
Simmer these ingredients, covered, for about half an hour. Then strain through a sieve. NB - don't bother trying to use a blender or mouli, because asparagus is very stringy.
Melt in a saucepan 3 tablespoons butter. Add and stir till blended 3 tablespoons flour. Stir in slowly 1/2 cup cream. Now add the asparagus flavoured stock and heat the soup until nearly boiling. Add the asparagus tips.
Season immediately before serving with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Serve with buttered sourdough toast.
Makes about six cups of delectable soup.
Asparagus with hollandaise sauce
Many years ago my sister-in-law, Vera Wrassky, introduced me to this delightful combination. It's a much better use for hollandaise than the over-rated Eggs Benedict.
Hand-made hollandaise (Joy of Cooking version)
Mrs Rombauer assures us that "if directions are carefully followed, it never fails".
Allow half an hour, but it might take you less time.
Melt slowly and keep warm 1/2 cup of butter.
Barely heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice or tarragon vinegar.
Have ready a small saucepan of boiling water and a tablespoon with which to measure it.
Place in the top of a double boiler, over - not in - boiling water: 3 free-range egg yolks
Beat the yolks with a wire whisk until they begin to thicken.
Add 1 tablespoon of boiling water and beat again until the eggs begin to thicken.
Repeat this process until you have added three more tablespoons of boiling water.
Beat in the warm lemon juice or vinegar.
Remove the double boiler from the heat. Beat the sauce well with the whisk. Continue to beat while slowly adding the melted butter and 1/4 tsp salt.
Beat until the sauce is thick.
Serve at once.
Makes 1 cup of unctuous yellow sauce.
Steam asparagus in the usual way. Give each person a little pot of sauce to dip their spears into.
If you have any hollandaise left, it also goes really well with globe artichokes.
NB - okay, you can also make hollandaise in a blender or food processor. It's a bit easier, but the flavour and texture won't be as good.