Bring me my spear

Now’s the time to whip up a green and pleas­ant salad as new sea­son asparagus ap­pears in mar­kets. Pair the stems with broc­coli and shred­ded egg in a mi­mosa salad, or dress them with lemony buttermilk in a spring­time veg medley

The Guardian - Cook - - The Modern Cook - Anna Jones

Over­cook­ing this short­lived prize isn’t some­thing I want to risk

The ar­rival of Bri­tish asparagus marks a change in the year for me. Those first bunches turn up at the green­gro­cer when the parks and mead­ows are full and fra­grant, green and scented. The taste, too, is one of the green­est flavours I know, while the tex­ture is at once ten­der and crisp – a rare com­bi­na­tion.

Asparagus is ef­fi­cient. The tips are the prized part, but the stem is just as flavour­ful. The tough bot­tom ends can be used to flavour a veg­etable stock or as the base of a soup. I tend to cut my spears rather than blanch them whole, sep­a­rat­ing the ten­der tip in one long piece and then slic­ing the stem much more thinly to en­sure they reach your plate evenly cooked. Over­cook­ing this short-lived prize isn’t some­thing I want to risk.

Asparagus needn’t be cooked though, es­pe­cially these first young bunches, which are sweet and ten­der as they are. Re­cently, I have been peel­ing the spears into wispy rib­bons, dress­ing them with a lit­tle salt, pep­per and lemon and pil­ing it all on top of moz­zarella or some crum­bled pecorino. You can also try stir­ring these sliced raw spears into a bowl of just-cooked spaghetti, so that they keep their beau­ti­ful two-tone pur­ple and green hues.

Some peo­ple pre­fer the thick, sturdy asparagus stalks, some the spindly thin­ner ones. I rest some­where in the mid­dle. There is much dis­cus­sion on how to eat it, and with­out doubt the sim­plic­ity of some but­ter, herbs or hol­landaise sauce can’t be beaten, but this is how I will eat my asparagus spears for the few pre­cious weeks they’re here. Asparagus mi­mosa salad My first real job as a chef was at a beau­ti­ful lo­cal “olde worlde” res­tau­rant in Kens­ing­ton called Daphne’s. It was sup­posed to be Princess Diana’s favourite. One of the things I re­mem­ber most was a dress­ing they made: a “mi­mosa” of chardon­nay vine­gar, oil and herbs. It works per­fectly with asparagus.

I have made this salad into more of a meal by adding eggs and pur­ple sprout­ing broc­coli. I pre­fer to shred the boiled eggs to achieve a tex­ture that sits well next to that of the asparagus. A punchy dress­ing of mus­tard and di­jon is bal­anced by some heady dill and but­tery av­o­cado. A salad with ev­ery tone of green – just like the spring mead­ows.

1 Boil the ket­tle. Put the eggs into a small pan and cover with hot water. Bring it back to the boil over a medium heat, then sim­mer for 7 min­utes. Drain the eggs as soon as they are cooked and run them un­der cold water un­til they are cool enough to han­dle.

2 Mean­while, snap the tough ends off the asparagus and dis­card them (or keep them for mak­ing stock). Chop the asparagus stems into 1cm rounds, stop­ping when you get near the top and keep­ing the tips in­tact. Chop the broc­coli in the same way, stop­ping when you get close to the flo­ret.

3 Put the asparagus tips and broc­coli flo­rets into a large saucepan and cover with boil­ing water. Add a pinch of salt and sim­mer for 3 min­utes, then add the asparagus and broc­coli rounds for the fi­nal minute.

4 Chop the shal­lot finely and put into a large mix­ing bowl. Add the vine­gar, oil, mus­tard and a pinch of salt and black pep­per, then stir to com­bine.

5 Once the green veg­eta­bles have fin­ished cook­ing, drain in a colan­der and add them to the bowl while still warm. Toss in the dress­ing.

6 Halve, stone and cut the av­o­cado into thick slices, then add them to the bowl.

7 Once the eggs have cooled, peel them and grate into a bowl. Sea­son, grate over the zest of the lemon, scat­ter the dill or fen­nel on top and mix gen­tly. If you like, you could add a ta­ble­spoon of creme fraiche or Greek yoghurt here.

8 Serve the veg with spoon­fuls of the lemon-and-dill shred­ded eggs, and a lit­tle but­tered rye bread, if you like.

Asparagus with crispy seeded bread and buttermilk dress­ing

This was an at­tempt to make one of my favourite sal­ads, the Tus­can bread and tomato salad pan­zanella, be­fore I could get my hands on good toma­toes. The re­sult bears very lit­tle re­sem­blance to a pan­zanella, but is still won­der­ful. Here gen­er­ous chunks of seeded bread are crisped in the oven with olive oil for

1 Pre­heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6 and bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Mean­while, com­bine all the dress­ing in­gre­di­ents in a clean jam jar, shake re­ally well and sea­son to taste. Keep in the fridge un­til you’re ready to dress the salad.

2 Put the bread chunks in an oven­proof dish and spread out into a sin­gle layer. Sprin­kle with thyme, driz­zle with olive oil and sea­son with salt and pep­per.

3 Us­ing a small ser­rated knife, slice the lemon as thinly as you can and ar­range the pieces on a sep­a­rate oven tray. Bake the bread and lemon un­til the bread is crisp and golden and the lemon is charred and sticky – this will take about 10 min­utes.

4 Mean­while, snap the tough ends off the asparagus and dis­card them (you can use them for stock, if you like). Chop the asparagus stems into 1cm rounds, stop­ping when you get near the top and keep­ing the tips in­tact.

5 Next, blanch the asparagus in the boil­ing water for 2 min­utes, then add the peas and broad beans for a fur­ther cou­ple of min­utes. Then drain im­me­di­ately and leave in a colan­der to steam dry: don’t be tempted to run them un­der cold water – this will take away all of their flavour.

6 If you like, you can dou­ble pod the broad beans, re­mov­ing their tough, some­times bit­ter outer skins.

7 Tip all the blanched veg­eta­bles into a serv­ing dish with the toasted bread, spinach and basil leaves. Pour over most of the dress­ing and mix well with your hands, so that ev­ery­thing is well dressed and the bread be­gins to soften.

8 Top with the charred lemon slices and use a veg­etable peeler to shred the parme­san over the top of the salad in thin petals.

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