I planted annuals and perennials in a new flowerbed on the weekend, and my husband did a lot of gardening, preparing and planting the established beds. But one of our most treasured perennials is in the vegetable garden.
When I look through the window, as I do many times each day, I see our prized asparagus patch. The plot has grown in the last few years, and while many of the plants are still young and send up thin spears, yields are increasing. Instead of having to pick a few spears at a time, store them in the fridge and add more a few days later to make a meal, we can easily cut enough for a meal now.
Asparagus has come a long way since it was first used as a therapeutic herb in Chinese medicine over 5,000 years ago. When the Romans brought it back from their military campaigns to central Europe, there was little enthusiasm for it, and it was largely ignored. Then, in the 16th century, it began to be cultivated on a small scale in Europe. It met with some approval, but it didn’t meet the needs of hard-working farmers, who had to rely more heavily on easily-grown root vegetables to fill their bellies. It has subsequently been adopted as a well-loved vegetable in Europe and the rest of the world, in both its white and green forms.
Asparagus spears become white or green depending on cultivation practises. On some farms, particularly in Europe, farmers cover the rows with soil and even with foil to prevent exposing it to light, and so produce white asparagus, a gourmet treat. When asparagus grows in sunshine, it develops a beautiful green colour, which I, plebian that I am, consider far more appealing as well as nutritious.
The classic way to cook asparagus is to bundle a bunch of uniform stalks together, tie it firmly with kitchen string, and immerse in boiling water to cover, and cook until just tender. There are tall thin cooking pots to accommodate a bundle of asparagus standing up.
I neither tie asparagus in bunches, nor cook it up-right. Our garden does not produce enough stalks of uniform size to cook evenly, and for another, I do not have the required tall pot. Instead, I boil stalks in a large frying pan for just long enough to make them tender crisp. The thickest stalks go in first, and after a minute or two I add the thinner ones so that all will be ready at the same time. If I want to use a smaller pot, I don't mind cutting the asparagus into pieces about 2.5 cm (1 inch) long before cooking.
Asparagus is also delicious when brushed with a little olive oil placed in a perforated grill basket to barbecue until just tender. It can be served as is, or sprinkled with salt and pepper and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. I recently acquired some gingery white balsamic that complements asparagus nicely.
The following dish would be perfect for brunch, and is equally good as a supper dish. The people who developed this recipe, and the others in the book it was taken from, recommend salting the cooking water for asparagus, and adding a pinch of sugar. I usually use tap water, with no additions. Given that the bacon adds salty flavour to the dish, I do not think it’s necessary to add salt when cooking asparagus for this recipe.
The recommended seven-minute blanch is a guideline. Cooking time depends on the thickness of the stalks. Check the asparagus with a fork and stop cooking when it is crisp tender.
Green Asparagus with
Eggs Sunny Side Up
Adapted from Vonderstein, Sabine (ed.): “Asparagus: the best recipes.” Parragon Books Ltd, Bath, 2012.
1.4 kg (3 lb) green asparagus
2 small red onions
200 g (7 oz) side bacon
15 mL (1 tbsp) butter
40 g (1½ oz) Parmesan shavings
50 mL (4 tbsp) olive oil
½ bunch chives
salt and pepper
toasted bread, to serve
Remove the tough ends from the asparagus, and discard or save for making soup. Blanch the asparagus in lightly salted water with a pinch of sugar for 7 minutes, and then drain and keep warm.
Peel the red onions and cut into thin slices. Cut the bacon into short, thin strips and fry both in a pan until the bacon in crispy.
Lift the bacon and onion out of the pan with a skimmer, blot with paper towels to remove excess bacon fat, set aside and keep warm. Drain and blot any remaining bacon fat from pan. Heat the butter in the same pan, and fry the eggs sunny side up.
Divide the asparagus among 4 warmed plates and scatter with Parmesan cheese. Drizzle olive oil over it, and season with salt and pepper if desired.
Snip chives into short rings. Place the cooked eggs on the asparagus, spread the bacon and onion over the top, then garnish with the chives and serve. Serve with toast. Makes 4 servings.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or at email@example.com