Green fingers: asparagus tip to toe
As regular readers will know, I’m celebrating my love of the food columns and supplements in The Guardian by trying to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021. Find out a bit more about that here.
This week it’s all about asparagus – every last bit of it.
Historically I always considered asparagus a sort of exotic, premium ingredient. Probably to do with the short harvest season here in the UK and with memories of my mum’s reverence in cooking it. She seemed almost nervous of it, standing it carefully in a pan of boiling water so as to cook the end but not overcook the delicate tips. There only ever seemed to be three spears each but, boy oh boy!, such flavour – all the greenness and optimism of spring into summer served with a slap of melting salted butter.
My perception now is that asparagus is way more available and the days of a lonely showcase of seasonal spears accompanied by a dollop of hollandaise or knob of butter are long gone. Our absolute favourite asparagus dish is Ottolenghi’s asparagus and samphire from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook (it involves black sesame seeds, fresh tarragon and garlic too). So, it’s fitting that it’s an Ottolenghi dish that greets me when I open Guardian Feast Issue No.170 – the 15-minute meal issue. Eggs are a perfect pairing for asparagus and buttered eggs and asparagus on toast looked just the ticket for a Sunday brunch.
It fell to The Husband to recreate Yotam’s dish, and he did an excellent job. The butter-double-dipped fried sourdough slices are a masterstroke; the spring onions, chives and pinch of chilli flakes (we don’t have aleppo) the perfect seasoning lift; and the squeeze of lemon zings merrily across the buttery eggy richness. However, The Husband muttered darkly when I said that Yotam gives the prep time as three minutes and cooking time 12: ‘When was the last time you tried peeling six soft boiled eggs?’ he said.
I always enjoy Tom Hunt’s ‘Waste not…’ column in Feast – there’s no doubt that a no-leaf-or-limb-in-the-bin is a kitchen aspiration of our household. Through the various lockdowns we have definitely become more fleet of foot when it comes to using up fridge scrapies – any veg offcuts go into a bag ready to create ‘compost stock’ for soups, risottos and so forth.
However, this week, the end bits of asparagus from Yotam’s breakfast feast went into Tom’s chilled almond and asparagus soup. And what a fabulously creamy, acidic decadent vessel for them. The soup is vegan – the creamy aspect comes solely from the almonds and olive oil. I topped up my handful of asparagus ends with broccoli to get the 100g required by Tom. For the breadcrumbs I used a white roll I found gathering dust in the freezer, and for sherry vinegar I used white wine vinegar with a splash of sherry – same thing, right?
I whizzed all the ingredients in the blender as instructed, but wasn’t totally happy with my ‘smooth paste’. Another going over with the stick blender sorted the texture. In some ways, the soup is a bit of a ‘nail soup’ (the nail soup in the story is augmented by so many other delicious ingredients that the rusty old nail itself is superfluous). However, I’d definitely do it again – great use of asparagus ends. And the handful of other ingredients. Nice one Tom.
Yotam Ottolenghi – buttered eggs and asparagus on toast
Tom Hunt – chilled almond and asparagus soup