Ask Peter: Asparagus
It’s a terrible thing to admit, but just as it’s getting really, really cheap, I am getting sick of asparagus. Can you give me some new ideas? And what should I do with all those woody stems I’ve snapped off? It seems a waste not to use them for something. Gin
I know that feeling. Too much of anything can simply get too much. I’m the same with caviar! Just joking...
The thing with asparagus is that it is so specific and its flavour is so overwhelmingly “asparagus” that to hide the flavour in a dish is to miss the point of serving it in the first place — unlike pumpkin, which is now in full swing over here in London and can be baked into desserts, mixed with lots of sweet spices (vanilla, cloves, cinnamon and so on), rolled into arancini balls with buckets of parmesan and deep-fried, smoked and pureed with ginger and served with chicken or pork chops.
Asparagus, no matter what you do with it, will pretty much always be the same, or near enough. So, what you have to do is think how can you change it texturally so you feel as though you’re experiencing it differently.
First let’s tackle the stems, though with a word of warning.
By no account should you ever put them down the in-sink waste disposal — which is what I did one fateful night at my London home 10 years ago. I’d bought the most fabulous white asparagus from Borough Market and thought I’d celebrate the season. I had 20 people coming over for dinner to meet the soon-to-be-head-chef at Dine, Cobus Klopper. As Cobus and I prepped and chatted I began to grind the woody stems and before I knew it I’d blocked the grinder, and the main drain (everything from bathroom to sinks and dishwasher) and it wasn’t until the following day that we got them unblocked. So don’t do that.
What you can do with the stems is make vegetable stock — but here’s where the “asparagus will always taste like asparagus” situation arises — the stock will be very obviously asparagus, which could be overpowering in the wrong situation.
However, that makes it very good for an asparagus and pea risotto, an asparagus cream sauce for pasta, an asparagus and lettuce soup, a poaching liquor for chunks of fish or chicken breast. Apart from stock, there’s little else you can do with it apart from feeding your worms.
As to prepping asparagus spears, you can simply snap them off where they break, serve the tip part and discard the rest. Or you can cut the lower woody part off 2cm from the base, then peel the skin (as you would a carrot) from about 3cm from the tip which will give you more centimetres of edible spear than by simply snapping it.
Suggestions for using asparagus spears
Wrap individual spears tightly in buttered filo pastry and then either deep-fry or bake at 180C until golden. These are great served as a canape dipped into a chilli mayonnaise, or as a first course with chunks of buffalo mozzarella, some freshly grated lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Make a tortilla, replacing the usual potatoes and onions with diced steamed kumara and asparagus that you’ve briefly blanched and sliced into 1cm lengths. Add loads of shredded flat parsley and finely chopped garlic.
Make a light coconut curry sauce and mix in baby spinach, raw asparagus sliced ½ cm thick and blanched peas or edamame. Serve on steamed white rice.
Brush with olive oil and grill until coloured all over then toss with balsamic vinegar and baby capers and serve warm with freshly grated pecorino or manchego cheese on top and a drizzle of your best extra virgin olive oil.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to[email protected] and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.