Preparing and Cooking Asparagus
Few vegetables can compare in flavour with tender, home grown asparagus. In their prime the small heads, or spears, should be tightly compressed; the stems, whether green or white, moist and glistening.
The slightest trace of brown on the cut edge indicates that the asparagus is past its best, and is beginning to lose its succulence.
Wash the asparagus carefully so as not to damage the tender tips. Trim the woody parts from the bases of the stems. Green stems need only washing, but white stems have a bitter and hard skin which must be peeled off, always from the tip downwards.
Trim the spears so that they are of uniform length, and tie in small bundles with fine string or cotton tape. Stand the bundles upright in a pan of boiling salted water for 10-12 minutes, depending on the thickness. Keep the asparagus tips above the water level so that they cook in the rising steam.
This delectable vegetable is served hot or cold as a first course, as an accompanying vegetable, and in veal and chicken fricassees. It is used in soups and sauces, in salads, souffles and gratins, and in cream fillings for pies and vol-au-vents.
1 lb. (500g) asparagus
Salt and pepper
3/4 pint (450 ml) thick white sauce
4 eggs, separated
Pinch of baking powder
COOKING TIME: 1 hour (approx)
OVEN TEMPERATURE: 180 C (350°F) —mark 4
Wash the asparagus carefully, and scrape them lightly from the tips downwards. Cut off the lower part of the spears just above the beginning of the woody parts, and trim the spears to even lengths. Set the trimmings and woody parts aside.
Tie the asparagus spears in small bundles with soft tape and stand them upright in a pan of lightly salted, boiling water, with the tips protruding above the water level. Add the trimmings and stern sections; cover with a lid, or with foil if the pan is not deep enough for the asparagus. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the tips are tender.
Lift out the bundles and leave to drain in a colander. Continue cooking the trimmings for a further 15 minutes and use, with the water, for soup.
Beat the egg yolks, one at a time, into the cool white sauce. Cut the asparagus into 1 in. (25 mm) pieces and fold into the sauce. Whisk the egg whites with the baking powder until stiff, and fold gently into the sauce. Spoon into a buttered, straight-sided soufflé dish, set in a pan of hot water, and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes — or until well risen and golden.
Serving Serve at once, straight from the oven, with melted butter or a Hollandaise sauce.
Variation Use half the amount of asparagus, and replace the other half with peeled chopped prawns or diced cooked chicken.
ASPARAGUS A LA FLAMANDE
1 lb. (500g) cooked asparagus
3 hard-boiled eggs
4 oz (100g) melted butter
Garnish: grated nutmeg, finely chopped parsley or chervil
Arrange the drained, warm asparagus on individual serving plates and decorate each with a few slices of hard-boiled egg and two small parsley sprigs. Chop the remaining eggs finely and put in a small bowl; arrange the finely chopped herbs in a second bowl, and grated nutmeg in a third.
Serving At the table, each person mixes his own dressing of melted butter, chopped eggs, herbs and nutmeg in which to dip the asparagus. Serve with crisp, warm French bread.
2 pints (1L) asparagus water
2oz (50g) butter
1 finely chopped onion
1 heaped tablopoonflour
1 pint (600 ml) milk (approx)
Salt and pepper
5fl oz (150 ml) cream
Garnish: finely chopped parsley
COOKING TIME: 25-30 minutes
Measure 2 pints (1L) of the water in which asparagus has been cooked (see Asparagus souffle above). Melt the butter in a large pan, and cook the onion over a gentle heat until it is soft but riot coloured.
Stir in the flour and mix thoroughly. Gradually add the asparagus water and the stem sections, discarding the trimmings. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Blend the soup in a liquidiser, then strain through a sieve to get rid of any woody bits of asparagus. Return to the pan and add milk to give the desired soup consistency; season with salt and pepper. Stir in the cream, heat through, but do not let it reach boiling point.
Serving Garnish with parsley.
Variations Float a few shelled shrimps on the soup, or serve. With tiny puff-pastry crescents.
1 lb (500g) cooked asparagus
3-4 oz (75-100g) sugar
2 tablespoons boiling water
1 teaspoon pickling spice
4fl oz (125 ml) white wine vinegar
Garnish: finely chopped Chervil
CHILLING TIME: 30 minutes
Cut the cooked, drained asparagus spears into 2 in. (50 mm) lengths and put in a shallow serving dish. Melt the sugar in the boiling water, add the spice and bring to the boil – stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the vinegar, and strain this marinade over the asparagus. Chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.
Serving Sprinkle with chervil and serve the salad with cold white meat, poultry or poached salmon.
Variations Mix the asparagus pieces with left-over cold chicken and sliced raw mushrooms. Fold into a lemon-flavoured mayonnaise, thinned down with a little cream.
Alternatively, serve the cooked asparagus spears whole as a first course, either warm with melted butter. Hollandaise or Mornay sauce, or cold with oil-vinaigrette or a herb-flavoured mayonnaise.