Asparagus – One Of The Most Versatile Vegetables!

Robin Boyle Australian, General Interest, Lunch, Main course, Recipe, Vegetables

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The asparagus season in Australia starts around the beginning of September – maybe August in some regions. Imported asparagus can be obtained all year round, but it is the local season that one waits for. And then you have an abundance of a vegetable that is so easy to work with, has a lovely flavour and texture and which is so versatile.

This blog post is more a photo tribute to asparagus with a range of recipe suggestions. The main recipe, for an asparagus tart, is given at the end.

My father had an asparagus patch in his magnificent vegetable garden and would often enter Mum’s kitchen triumphantly with a handful of new spears. In the latter part of his life he managed to start growing white asparagus, along with the traditional green.

Spring salad of raw asparagus, zucchini and egg

The Coles supermarket magazine recently included a salad of shaved raw asparagus and raw zucchini with salad leaves and green peas tossed in a vinaigrette with honey and topped with boiled eggs and chopped toasted hazelnuts. It was surprisingly delicious – and there was no need to cook the vegetables.

Salad of blanched asparagus with watercress and almonds

Use your imagination and creativity. Blanch and refresh whole asparagus spears so they are still al dente and add to the salad ingredients and vinaigrette of your choice. Here we include it with watercress and almonds. The spears do look more impressive if the thick ends are shaved a few times with a vegetable peeler.

Asparagus cooked with other ingredients at the last minute

We recently cooked Rick Stein’s braise of sausages, vegetables, lemon and bay leaves. With ten minutes to go, we put some asparagus spears over the top to give us a green vegetable.

Beans, asparagus and snow peas with hazelnuts

We cooked this variation of an Ottolenghi recipe at a recent virtual dinner party: VDP No. 12.

Niçoise-style salad of asparagus and broccolini with tuna, green lentils and tonatto sauce

We served a scaled back version of this as an entree last Christmas. The base for the idea came from this recipe in Delicious. The asparagus spears added extra interest and we added some tuna as well.

Asparagus and tonnato aïoli

This is a simpler version of the previous recipe but it is absolutely delicious. The tuna aïoli is wonderful and matches the asparagus perfectly, but you could use other par-cooked vegetables such as broccolini, green or butter beans, carrot sticks or leeks or just a plate of crudités. Use the tonnato as a sauce or as a dip.

First make the aïoli – method below. Then steam or cook your asparagus in the normal manner so that it is al dente. Or prepare your chosen vegetables.

For the best tonnato aïoli result, make your own mayonnaise. There are recipes everywhere but here is a reliable recipe if you need one and one which closely follows our normal method: Fail-Proof Homemade Mayonnaise. That recipe makes about 300ml mayonnaise and it is perfect for creating a tuna aïoli (and it gives extra hints too about making mayonnaise). For the oil, we often use about one third of neutral oil, one third macadamia oil and one third good olive oil.

To make the tonnato (tuna aïoli) do the following. Make the mayonnaise using a food processor or stick blender as described in the link above. Leave the mixture in the container. Add 2 teaspoons capers (drained), (optional) 2 tbsps chopped dill, one medium clove garlic roughly chopped, 1 small anchovy fillet (roughly chopped) and 130g quality tuna meat mashed a bit (from a tin, in spring water or oil, drained). Blend at each addition or in one go, but in very short bursts and don’t over-blend if you want an aïoli with some texture. Store and use as per normal. (Add more garlic if desired.)

Here is a link to a similar idea: Asparagus with tonnato.

Steamed chicken with asparagus and fennel

Another excellent Jill Dupleix recipe.

Burnt asparagus

For this idea, see: Is burnt the new black?

Zucchini and asparagus, braised and steamed

Slice zucchini into lengths similar to the asparagus. Heat some oil and butter in a pan, add the zucchini and asparagus, season and braise over high heat for a couple of minutes. Then pop on a lid for a few more minutes until the vegetables are just cooked.

Asparagus, feta and dill tart

This recipe is based on a recipe from the New York Times: “Asparagus, Goat Cheese and Tarragon Tart”. However, we experimented with feta as the cheese and used dill as the herb.

Instead of asparagus, substitute strips of roasted red or yellow capsicums, thin floret slices of cauliflower or broccoli, semi-dried (oven dried) tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, caramelised onions, olives, etc.

Instead of feta, try other types of cheese such as goats cheese, blue cheese, cheddar or a mix.

Ingredients

(for 6 to 8 servings as an entrée or 3 to 4 as main)

  • 200g quality feta, crushed
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 ½ tbsps chopped fresh dill, plus more for serving
  • ½ tbsp finely grated lemon zest
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 200ml crème fraiche (or thick cream or mix of thick cream and sour cream)
  • plain flour, for dusting the work surface
  • 1 sheet bought butter puff pastry or 250g to 300g home-made rough puff pastry
  • 225g thin asparagus or 12 to 16 medium spears, washed, dried woody ends trimmed
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • (optional) 2 tbsps grated Parmesan
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • (optional) chilli flakes
  • (optional) 50g Parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler (about 1/2 cup)

Preparation

You need a baking tray to fit your puff pastry sheet or one that is 33 cm by 25cm if using your own pastry. Fifteen minutes before ready to bake, heat oven to 220oC.

In a suitable sized bowl, use a fork or similar to mash together the cheese, egg, garlic, dill, lemon zest, salt and nutmeg until reasonably smooth. Stir in the crème fraîche until combined.

If using your own pastry, on a lightly floured surface, roll out puff pastry into a 33 cm by 25cm rectangle about 3 to 4 ml thick. Line tray with baking paper. Place the pastry on top. With a sharp knife, lightly score a 1cm border around the edges of the puff pastry. There is no need to fold up.

Spread the feta and cream mixture evenly inside the scored border. Line up the asparagus spears on top in a decorative manner, and brush them with olive oil. Sprinkle some salt (and the grated Parmesan) over the asparagus.

Bake until the pastry is puffed and golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Let it cool on the baking sheet for at least 15 minutes or an hour or so before serving. (Optional: sprinkle black pepper, chilli flakes, the shaved Parmesan.) Drizzle a little olive oil on top. Sprinkle with more chopped dill.

Serve warm. However, it is also delicious cold. Accompany with a fresh green salad.

Degree of difficulty: 3/5 (moderately difficult).