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Springtime spears of asparagus

Updated: May 8, 2019

Photos by Ray Attard



The spring brings with it an abundance of produce from the ground. One of my favourite vegetables widely available at this time of year is asparagus.

Asparagus grows wild in Malta and you can go out foraging for it. It is much smaller and a little more bitter than the farmed variety, but it is a fun day out of foraging and cooking with the family.

An easier, and perhaps tastier, option is to buy local asparagus at the Farmer’s Market. I’ve been buying my asparagus from Lucija Borg, who comes from Xaghra, in Gozo, for many years. Her sons, recently returned from Australia, now help her sell her asparagus along with mange tout and herbs. I highly recommend you seek her out.

Whenever I’m there I pick up a few bunches and really try to make the most of this season. From simple recipes of fresh asparagus topped with Hollandaise (we always have this for supper the day after a Farmer’s Market visit in the spring), to tarts, risottos and pastas, these are some of my favourite recipes.

What do you do with your asparagus? Feel free to share recipes in the comments.


Asparagus with classic Hollandaise sauce



Ingredients

  • Bunch fresh asparagus

Hollandaise sauce

  • 3 egg yolks

  • 2 tbsp wine vinegar

  • 100g salted butter, cut into pieces

  • ¼ tsp salt

  • Pinch pepper

Method

  1. Snap the woody ends of the asparagus off the stem and set aside.

  2. Put the egg yolks and vinegar in a bowl and stir till they are well mixed.

  3. Place this bowl onto a pan of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water and heat gently stirring until the yolks thicken.

  4. Add one piece of butter to the egg yolks and whisk over the gentle heat until the butter melts. Add the remaining butter a little at a time whisking continuously.

  5. At the same time, plunge the asparagus upright into the pan of boiling water, and boil for 6 mins or until the asparagus is cooked to the bite, drain and place in serving dish.

  6. When all the butter has been added to the bowl over the gently simmering water, continue to whisk until you have a thick sauce.

  7. Remove from the heat, and add the salt and pepper.

  8. Serve warm with the cooked asparagus.


Prawn and asparagus linguine



Serves 4

Ingredients

· 8 asparagus stems, chopped at an angle in 3cm pieces

· 250g cherry tomatoes, halved

· 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

· 1 lemon, juice only

· 1 glass of white wine

· 2-4 red chillies (to taste), finely chopped

· 400g king prawns

· 400g linguine

· Olive oil

· Handful fresh basil, chopped

· Sprinkle dried oregano

· Pinch salt and pepper

Method

  1. Fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil.

  2. Add in your pasta and cook for 10-12 mins (see packet instructions).

  3. Whilst the pasta is cooking, put a large frying pan on medium heat and add the olive oil.

  4. Add the tomatoes and fry for 4 mins.

  5. Add in the garlic, chilli, asparagus and prawns and cook for another 3 mins.

  6. Pour in the white wine and add the salt, pepper and oregano.

  7. Leave to simmer for 3-5 mins, until the sauce reduces and thickens.

  8. Once the pasta is cooked, drain and add to the sauce.

  9. Add the lemon juice and basil and heat for 1 min before plating up.


Asparagus and Gruyere tart



Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet pre-rolled puff pastry

  • 500g asparagus (on the thin side)

  • 150g Gruyère cheese, shredded

  • 1 tbsp olive oil

  • 1 egg, beaten

  • Salt and pepper

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C.

  2. On a floured surface roll out the defrosted puff pastry.

  3. Place on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment (usually wrapping the pastry in the box), allowing a little paper to hang over.

  4. With a sharp knife, lightly score pastry dough 2cm (¾ inch) in from the edges to mark a rectangle taking care not to cut right through the pastry.

  5. Using a fork pierce dough inside the border.

  6. Brush the border with a little beaten egg seasoned with salt and pepper.

  7. Chill the pastry for 15 mins in the fridge, then bake until golden and puffed up, about 15 mins.

  8. Remove pastry shell from oven, and gently press the central area down with a spoon (so that the pastry has a high border.)

  9. Sprinkle the pastry shell with the Gruyere.

  10. Trim the bottoms of the asparagus spears to fit crosswise inside the tart shell.

  11. Arrange in a single layer over the Gruyere, alternating ends and tips. Brush with oil, and season with salt and pepper.

  12. Bake until asparagus spears are tender, 20 to 25 mins.


Asparagus and Hollandaise tart

You can also use some hollandaise sauce instead of the cheese. Just add another beaten egg to the sauce, and fill the pastry shell with this mixture, topping with asparagus as above and baking until the asparagus is roasted, and the hollandaise has a golden brulée appearance.


Asparagus risotto



Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 500g asparagus, woody ends removed

  • 850ml chicken stock

  • Salt and pepper

  • 1 onion, peeled and very finely chopped

  • 50g unsalted butter

  • 3 tbsp olive oil

  • 250 g risotto rice

  • 50ml vermouth

  • 150g Parmesan, freshly grated

Method

  1. Heat the chicken stock.

  2. Cut the tips off the asparagus and keep to one side.

  3. Chop the tender parts of the stalks into approx. 2.5cm pieces.

  4. Blanch the asparagus tips for 2 mins, then blanch the stalks for about 3 mins.

  5. In a blender, pulse the stalks with a ladle of the stock.

  6. In a heavy saucepan, cook the onion in half the butter and the oil over a low heat for about 6 mins until soft.

  7. Add the rice and cook gently, stirring for 2 mins to coat the rice with the oil.

  8. Start to add the hot stock, ladle by ladle, stirring constantly, allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next.

  9. Continue until the rice is al dente, usually about 20 mins.

  10. Add the stalk puree, vermouth, asparagus tips, the rest of the butter, and the Parmesan.

  11. Stir to combine and season.

  12. Serve with more Parmesan.

Linguine carbonara with asparagus



Serves 4

Ingredients

· 500g asparagus

· 500g linguine

· 4 egg yolks

· 2 cloves garlic, crushed with a pinch of sea salt

· 150g Parmesan, freshly grated, plus extra for serving

· Salt and pepper

Method

1. Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus, then cut at an angle into 2cm slices. Set aside, leaving spears intact.

2. Add linguine to a pot of boiling salted water, which you will be cooking until just al dente. (2 minutes less than the cooking time on the packet).

3. Halfway through cooking time (about 5 minutes left) add the asparagus to the pot. Continue cooking till the pasta is ready.

4. Meanwhile, put the egg yolks and garlic into a sauté pan (off the heat) and beat just until the yolks are broken up.

5.Add 2 ladlefuls of the pasta water and keep to one side.

6. Sieve the linguine and sliced asparagus, keeping another 4 ladles of water aside. Add the linguine and asparagus to your sauté pan.

7. Add the Parmesan, put back on the heat, and toss the pasta by shaking the pan or using a wooden spoon, to coat the pasta in sauce. Add more water until you have the desired consistency.

8. Serve with more Parmesan and some freshly ground black pepper.

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