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Saturday, 5 May 2012

Asparagus, Finally


Last year I planted some asparagus tubers that were three years old. Asparagus is a lesson in gardening patience, you can't pick them until they're at least three years old. Until they're old enough all they give you is spindly frondy ferns that take up lots of space and nothing else. This photo shows one of my asparagus plants this morning. They're fascintaing, once through the soil the spears grow so quickly that I'm sure you'd be able to see them move if you sat and watched for an hour. If all my patience hadn't been used up on getting them to this pickable state I'd set up my camera to capture a spear growing in a day.

When you pick them this fresh you can just eat them raw, they're really sweet because the sugar in the spears starts to turn to starch the minute you cut them. If you can eat it within a few hours of picking you'll be amazed by the difference in the taste from imported shop bought spears which taste bland and are woody by the time they've been flown around the planet to your supermarket. Obviously not everyone has the space or the patience to grow their own, but if you can find a local grower I urge you to try some from them. The season for British asparagus is so short., just May and a little of June and then it's all over for another year.

Asparagus Soup

Serves 4-6

500g asparagus
50g unsalted butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
700ml chicken stock
70ml creme fraiche
2 free range egg yolks
2 tablespoons fino sherry (a nice chilled glass or two of this while you're cooking helps too!)

Chop off the tips of each asparagus spear and set aside. Chop the stalks into 1cm pieces, discarding any woody end bits. Melt the butter in a pan and saute the shallot gently for about 5 minutes until it's translucent. Add the chopped stalks (not the tips!) and sweat them very gently for another 5 minutes, taking care that the shallot doesn't brown
Pour in the stock and simmer until the stalks are tender (probably about 30 minutes) and then give it all a whizz in the pan with a hand held blender.  Bring the soup back to a simmer and add the asparagus tips. Cook gently for about 4 minutes, until the tips are just cooked. Take the pan off the heat and in a small bowl mix the sherry, creme fraiche and the egg yolks. Stir this mixture into the soup and keep stirring until it has thickened and then serve. Yum!