Virtually the first thing we did when we moved to Suffolk – after rabbit-proofing the vegetable plot – was to plant an asparagus bed.
This was motivated entirely by greed. The whole family loves the stuff and relatives who live some distance away have been known to beg for food parcels during asparagus season.
If I was a more organised person I’d be able to tell you exactly what we planted but hey, it was four years ago and all I can remember is that they were Dutch varieties from a place in Kent and looked like alien life forms.
We prepared their bed, laid them tenderly on mounded ridges of earth, and lovingly tucked them up in their blanket of soil. We had 60 crowns so it took a while.
But what a payback. It’s true you can’t gorge yourselves for a couple of years while they establish – just a few spears here and there.
But by year three, we were picking asparagus by the basketful. I have never ever said “I’m sick of asparagus” but I certainly had to think of some creative ways to use up the glut last year.
Asparagus frittata – check. Asparagus soup – check. Giving bundles away to friends – check.
This year it’s late because of the delayed Spring so we’ve only had a few pickings and our decision-making in the kitchen has mostly been of the “boil or roast” variety.
I like both – roasting with a drizzle of oil and a pinch of sea salt seems to bring out the flavour and it’s lovely served with a few shavings of parmesan. But if you boil it (and when I say boil I don’t mean cook it until it’s limp and stringy) you get to eat Hollandaise sauce too. Joy. Or you can just dunk your asparagus in a boiled egg. More joy. Did I mention I love asparagus?
How long you cook it for depends on your personal tastes. I don’t like it almost raw, as served in some restaurants who seem to just pass it through hot water; I like it cooked but not overcooked, so when you poke the thick end with the tip of a knife there’s still a slight resistance.
When it comes to Hollandaise, there are two basic methods – the traditional way, which can be tricky to pull off but gives a gloriously unctuous result, and the easier food processor method, which gives you a lighter, frothier sauce. I’ve been known to start with one and end with the other after the sauce started to split. Neither takes more than a few minutes and they both taste much better than the Hollandaise you can buy in the shops. These quantities serve 4.
Hollandaise: the traditional way
4 0z (100g) butter
2 tblspns white wine vinegar
1 tblspn cold water
2 egg yolks
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Half fill a pan with water and heat until simmering, Have ready a heatproof bowl that will fit in the pan without actually touching the water.
Melt the butter in another saucepan over a low heat and allow to cool slightly. In yet another pan, boil the vinegar until it has reduced to a tablespoonful. Sorry, this recipe is a bit heavy on the washing up. Take the vinegar off the heat and add the cold water.
Put the vinegar and water mix into your heatproof bowl and add the egg yolks. Set the bowl over the pan of gently simmering water and whisk over a low heat for several minutes until thick and frothy.
Take it off the heat and slowly whisk in the warm (not hot) butter, then the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. If you’re brave you can do all this in a saucepan on direct heat, without the bain marie. Good luck with that.
Hollandaise: the food processor way
Put three egg yolks and two tablespoons of lemon juice into a blender or food processor and season with salt and pepper. Put the lid on and blend for a few seconds.
Have the butter bubbling hot and gradually pour it onto the egg yolks while running the machine at high speed. Blend for a few seconds until thick, light and foamy.
Eat and enjoy.
If you’re using the traditional method, there are a couple of tricks that can help you salvage the Hollandaise if it all starts to go, so to speak, pear-shaped.
If the sauce gets too cold, it will set – warm it by stirring it over a pan of hot water.
If it gets too hot it will separate. Remove the bowl from the water and stir in an ice cube or a few drops of cold water.
Worst-case scenario – dump it all in the food processor, add another egg yolk and give it a quick whizz.
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My parents moved from the Chicago area to the mountains in Northern California near the central valley where most of the US produce is grown. There is a yearly asparagus festival (one of many different food festivals) where they had a tempura type battered/deep fried asparagus dipped in a Crosse and Blackwells seafood sauce (red with horseradish) that was amazing. Mom makes it quite often. She also found a ton of wonderful asparagus recipes (and many others) so we are working our way through those as well!
Mmmm, Karen, love the sound of the asparagus festival. Your mom’s recipes sound really interesting too. I love it when stuff like that gets handed down the generations. And it’s always great to hear of new ways to use asparagus. Can’t wait for next year’s crop!
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