This is a recipe for asparagus à la Grecque, something that’s a welcome addition to a summer dinner table. But it all started with a failed receipt from 18th century cookery writer Hannah Glasse. It was unspeakably vile.
If I’m using someone else’s recipe I generally follow it faithfully the first time before (if necessary) tweaking it to my tastes. This was one occasion when I should have used my critical faculties, not to mention my years of experience as a cook.
Hannah’s pickled asparagus was far too vinegary and had I followed her method to the end I would have been left with a very acetic compost. It was at the suggestion of food writer and garden guru Mark Diacono that I abandoned it and opted to cook the asparagus à la Grecque. (An aside: if you don’t have Mark’s new book, Herb, you are missing a treat).
When I was a youngster it was a rare buffet party which didn’t include a dish of mushrooms à la Grecque but it’s a cooking method that seems to have fallen out of favour. It works remarkably well with asparagus. And as it’s eaten cold and benefits from sitting in its dressing, it’s a dish which can be made the day before.
It’s good just as it is, but by all means add a scatter of fresh herbs and/or some crumbled feta if the fancy takes you.
Asparagus à la Grecque
12 thick asparagus spears
50ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
50ml extra virgin olive oil
1 bay leaf
1 clove of garlic, peeled and squashed
Salt and black pepper
Try to use asparagus spears which are all the same thickness so they cook at the same speed. Wash them, snap off the woody ends and trim them to the same length. (Use the trimmings in another dish.)
Put the lemon juice, oil and water in a lidded, stove-proof dish big enough to fit the asparagus in a single layer. Add the bay leaf and garlic and a pinch each of salt and pepper.
Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, and add the asparagus. Put on the lid and cook at a low simmer for four minutes or until the spears are cooked but still crisp. They’ll carry on cooking once they’re out of the pan.
Decant into a dish, again in a single layer, and pour the warm dressing over them. Check the seasoning and add a little more salt if necessary.
Cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours, but remove from the fridge 15-20 minutes before you want to eat.