Posted 7th May 2010 by Jenny McIvor
Behold. The first of the season's British asparagus is here. Strange how the arrival of these tender, green and (most importantly) home-grown spears has come to represent the official start of the British summer. It's a little like the way, come December, that it's only on hearing Fairytale Of New York for the first time in 12 months that it feels as though Christmas has finally arrived, irrespective of the fact that the local department store's Santa's Grotto has already been doing brisk trade for a number of weeks.
There's no getting round the fact that asparagus can be a little fragile, and getting the spears home intact feels like a triumph. (Note to self: resist urge to put six-pack of beer on top of them in the shopping bag.) Whenever I fail, and accidentally knock a tip off, I feel weirdly guilt-stricken, as if I've maimed them. But that's just my problem - a lot like chocolate Easter eggs, they taste as good whether they're whole or in pieces.
At first, doing anything else with the spears, aside from giving them the classic steam + melted butter + freshly ground black pepper treatment, feels like a sacrilegious act, especially if what you're dealing with is the very slender young asparagus, aka sprue. But you can't live on butter and pepper alone, and even the asparagus itself is going to get bored with that after a while. My current favourite alternative is to roast it, as in this recipe for roasted asparagus with Parmesan. As well as the drizzle of balsamic and shavings of Parmesan, a few slices of silkily thin-cut Parma ham fits the bill nicely here.
Or you can treat your spears like toast soldiers and dip them into the yolk of a soft-boiled egg (which might even persuade the kids to give them a go), bake in a flaky pastry summer tart or add to a risotto with peas, broad beans, shredded basil leaves and some lemon zest. Click here for lots of other irresistible ways to asparagus binge this month - or drop us a line to tell us what you're doing with yours.