“We’re well used to tomato sauces”, says Grigson, “I don’t know why we haven’t gone further along the road, using other vegetables in the same kind of way”. This has always confused me; the only tomato sauce I know is either the tomato sauce for pasta or the tomato sauce that comes in bottles as ketchup. The recipe is obviously for neither. I can’t find a tomato sauce recipe that seems even remotely similar – even during the nineteenth century, tomato sauces were made for macaroni, simply stewed with olive oil and garlic and some herbs as we do nowadays.
Does anyone know if Britain has had an asparagus shortage this year? I’ve looked high and low for days and not found any from the UK, most are from Peru and the nearest were from Catalan. Then, I happened upon some in Asda of all places. I love asparagus, but refuse to eat the important stuff – aside from its flavor, the reason it’s special is because it is such a short-lived treat. I don’t want to eat it all year round. Griggers didn’t agree, it seems, and scoffed it whenever she could get her mitts on some.
There’s no other way of enjoying this excellent vegetable – simply steamed with butter. The only addition I’ve made is a serving it on a slice of toast to turn this from a starter to light supper dish.
You will need at least 10 stalks per person – or more if you have those delicate thin fronds. Trim away the woody ends by cutting or snapping them off and tie the stalks up with string. Stand the asparagus in a saucepan with an inch of boiling water seasoned with salt and pepper. Cover the pan (or make a dome with foil if your pan is not deep) and simmer until tender and cooked – anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes depending on thickness. Alternatively, cook them in an asparagus kettle or steam them. Meanwhile melt an ounce of butter for every serving and season it with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Lay the asparagus on a plate and pour over the butter or serve it in a separate jug.
FYI: Asparagus is famous for producing smelly wee – though some people haven’t made this observation. This isn’t because their urine hasn’t taken on the smell, but that they lack the specific receptor in the nose that detects it. It is all down to one particular recessive allele of a gene – if you have both copies of the allele, you won’t be able to smell your sticky asparagus wee – but everyone else will! Nice.
#146 Asparagus with Melted Butter – 9.5/10. This is pretty hard to beat – the bitter-sweet asparagus with the rich salty and tart lemon butter are a marriage made in heaven. I could eat this forever.
For 3. Start by trimming and cooking a bunch of asparagus as I did for the Asparagus and eggs. Drain them and cut them into thirds. Save some of the best tips for garnish. Keep the rest warm in the oven sprinkled with Gruyere cheese – a tablespoon per person. Make the omelettes using 6 eggs exactly how I did previously when I cooked mushroom omelettes. Add a third of the asparagus and to the centre and serve with a nice salad.
Make a vinaigrette from olive oil and cider vinegar in a ratio of 3:1, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, sugar and a small clove of finely chopped garlic.
#57 Asparagus Omelette 6.5/10. A very nice omelette, but oddly I preferred the asparagus and eggs I made earlier in the month. Not sure why, because the ingredients are essentially the same.
The other travesty is that I have not cooked any this year, and there are a few asparagus-based recipes in English Food. (#55) Asparagus and eggs made use of the left over eggs from the almond tart I’d made previously, plus Greg and I were slightly hungover and scrambled eggs, as far as I’m concerned, are one of the best cures for such a malaise.
For two: Remove the woody bits from about 6 ounces of asparagus. To do this with minimal waste, just hold the asparagus spear in your hands and allow it to snap near the base end, this is the natural breaking point between woody stalk and tender spear. Boil them in just an inch or so of well-salted water for 2 to 4 minutes, depending on thickness. Do not overcook! Test them with a knife if you’re not sure. Salt is a must with any green vegetable as, apart from improving the flavour, it makes the colour much more vivid (also, don’t cover the pan for the same reason). Drain them and keep them warm. Toast some brown bread and butter it well. Keep that warm too. Make some scrambled eggs, using 4 of the lovelies, a tablespoon of butter and plenty of salt and pepper. Stop cooking the eggs before they are ready as the carry on cooking in the pan. I prefer them soft, creamy and pourable, but I know that makes some people want to vom, but please don’t overdo them. Place two-thirds of the asparagus on the toast, spoon over the eggs, and using your best artistic flare, stylishly place the rest of the spears on top. Scoff.
#55 Asparagus and eggs – 7/10. Simple yet effective. It displays the richness of the eggs, and the sweet but slightly astringent taste of the asparagus. Plus it takes only a few minutes to make. Very good.