on asparagus and spring

grilled asparagus with broad bean puree 

I absolutely love that we have seasons. For someone like myself who is a bit of a change junkie and starts to get uncomfortable if things stay the same for too long, the gentle progress from summer to autumn, winter to spring is a welcome relief. Not only does the change in weather influence what we wear, the leisure activities we are planning (bring on the boating), and what we eat. It can make a massive difference to how we feel. And this year, let me tell you dear reader, that wonderful sense of lightness and hope that accompanies the first flush of Spring has come not a moment too soon.

Spring seems to have sprung quickly this year. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a lot of other things on my mind. Or that I’ve been spending more time at the farm recently, where winter always hangs around with much more determination than here in the beautiful city of Sydney. It seems that all of a sudden things are looking up. The birds are singing, the leaves on the gigantic plane tree outside my bedroom window are growing at an exponential rate, the mornings are filled with light when I take my morning run around boat filled Rushcutters Bay and my even newly planted tomatoes and basil are starting to take off. There’s a real sense of life renewing.

But the absolutely best thing about spring is having asparagus back on the menu. I’ve been so excited that I’ve managed to have asparagus three times in the last week. The first was a grilled effort accompanied by another of springs bounties; smashed broad beans. Then there was a leisurely Saturday lunch on one of Sydney’s best balconies (I know it seems a bit excessive to be talking up your own house like that but seriously ,my friends, my new balcony is definitely contender for the title). The asparagus were simply simmered into vibrant greenness and then smothered with a decadent pine nut aioli to take the edge off all that healthiness.  Perfect for catching up with a treasured friend as the sun kissed our shoulders.

The latest effort was my favourite spears, shredded into ribbons and blanched then tossed into a salad with baby spinach, avocado and chives. Green on green with lovely textural contrasts, just the thing for packing into the esky with a heap of lemons for a luncheon on a friend’s boat. Add fish, chips and calamari picked up from the waters edge of the Sydney Fish market and a crystal clear Sydney spring day….all good things.

grilled asparagus with broad bean puree
serves 2

Broad beans are another springtime treat, although their high manitainence double peeling requirements make them less of a fav. I keep reading recipes where they say that if your beans are young enough you don’t need to double peel. I’ve tried this on a few occasions but always end up peeling at the table so have given up on the idea.

For this recipe to work you need your broad beans as fresh and sweet as possible. If they are a little tired you could blanch and refresh before the second peeling. Another option would be to try freshly podded peas.

This puree also work well as a sauce for grilled fish and poultry or even as a dip to serve with crusty bread. Feel free to use a food processor but the mortar and pestle give a lovely chunky texture and also lets you work out some aggression.

2 bunches asparagus, trimmed
2T olive oil
1kg broad beans in the pod, shelled and double peeled to give approx 175g edible beans
1 small clove garlic, smashed
½ bunch mint, leaves picked
4T extra virgin olive oil
large handful grated parmesan cheese
lemon juice, to taste (2-4T)

Preheat grill to very hot. Meanwhile for the puree smash broad beans, garlic and mint in a mortar and pestle until you have a chunky paste. Stir through oil and cheese and and season well. Add lemon juice to taste.

Drizzle oil over asparagus and grill, turning frequently until cooked to your liking. Divide asparagus between 2 plates and spoon over puree. Serve with extra cheese for grating passed separately.

asparagus with pine nut aioli
serves 4
Inspired by Sean Moran in let it simmer.

The asparagus and mayo combo isn’t a new idea. The great this that Sean does is lightly fry the nuts in half the oil before so the oil takes on their lovely toasty flavour. Another dimension.

Unless you are feeling particularly in need of an oil fix there will be more aioli than you need. But rest assured you’ve find plenty of uses for it on sandwiches, with roast chook or as I had tonight: big dollup smeared over a BBQ tuna steak (yes I am still eating my way through my freezer tuna stash) with a heap of lemon and wild rocket on the side.
1/2C (125mL) peanut or other vegetable oil
100g pinenuts
1C (250mL) mild or light flavoured olive oil
2 egg yolks
3T white wine vinegar
2T lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 bunches asparagus, trimmed

Place peanut oil and pinenuts in a small saucepan and gently heat until pinenuts are lightly toasted. Cool, Place yolks, vinegar, garlic and lemon juice in a food processor and whizz until combined. With the motor still running start adding the olive oil drop by drop and then a little more aggressively until all combined. Remember you’re walking the knife edge here between lusciously thick mayo and separated watery badness. Drain the oil from the nuts and slowly add. Taste and season. Add pinenuts and process until roughly chopped but still chunky.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Simmer asparagus for 4-5mins or until cooked to your liking. Drain and plunge into a large bowl of cold water. Divide between plates and season. Serve with aioli passed separately and a rocket and radicchio salad on the side.

green goddess salad
serves 6 as a side
Inspired by Karen Martini’s crab and shaved asparagus salad (so glad she’s back from maternity leave)

I’ve been reading the Chez Panisse vegetables book recently which provoked the name for this salad. Apparently there was a mayo based dressing of the same name that was doing the rounds in the 50s. This salad has nothing to do with either, just loved the name.

If you happen to be taking this salad on a boat on the harbour (OK OK that was a gloat), just combine the dressing ingredients in a jar and have your salad greens apart from the avocado in a large bowl with a lid in the esky or fridge. When your fish & chips are on board just toss the dressing through and then chop up your avocado and you are ready to go.

2 bunches asparagus, trimmed and finely sliced into ribbons using a mandoline or vegetable peeler
120g baby spinach (6 large handfuls)
1 bunch chives, snipped into 4cm lengths
1 ripe avocado sliced into thin wedges
juice 1 lemon
1T Dijon mustard
1/3C extra virgin olive oil
2T lemon pressed olive oil (or sub in a little more extra virgin)

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and blanch asparagus ribbons for 1 ½ minutes. Drain and refresh in cold water. Combine lemon juice, mustard and oils ain a small bowl and whisk to combine. Season well. Toss dressing with asparagus, spinach and chives and place on a serving platter. Scatter over avocado tucking in between the asparagus and season avocado. Serve immediately.

ps. As much as I like to think they are the perfect vegetable, there is a down side to asparagus. Just read the comments section of my asparagus worship post from last year to get the whole lowdown. Still one of the funniest comments this blog has ever seen.

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  • I am all for asparagus worship, but is funny to read about the coming of spring when we are just entering fall here. Another reason it is fun being part of an international blogging community! I will keep coming back to get a breath of spring as our days keep getting shorter!

  • The appearance of new season asparagus is a definitely an event – along with flowering of the jasmine in my garden, it’s the sign that spring is here. You’ve posted some beautiful recipes Jules. I’m a big broad bean fan, so I shall have to get shelling and peeling I thnk. Thanks for these.

  • Hey Clancy
    A Green Goddess is what the call the army fire-engines in the UK, used whenever the normal fire brigade is on strike (i.e. all the time).

  • I’m looking out the window this morning, and it’s blue skies and bright sunshine, which the plants on the balcony are lapping up. It’s like they’ve woken up from a winter of hibernation and slow decay. Yep. There’s lots to love about spring.

  • Ok, I cheated. I bought 6 bunches of asparagus this weekend.

    I made asparagus pasta – linguine tossed with capers, anchovies, garlic, lemon juice, bit of chilli and mersey valley cheese crumbled through it, served with grilled asparagus on top with walnut crumbs and more mersey valley cheese on top. Good lord.

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