Probably one of the lowest points in my life occurred last week when I went over to a legendary food critic’s house to cook asparagus risotto but forgot to bring the asparagus, a key component to the dish I had proposed.
As it happens, I also failed to bring the rice. Thankfully I managed to procure a bag en route.
I’m accomplished in risotto cookery but the dish lacked vibrancy. This would be on account of the lack of any actual ingredients. If not this alone, then anything thematic – no saffron for a Milanese risotto. There was chicken stock, Comte – the best I could find was 15-month – white wine, shallots and so on. These combined are more than enough to create something generous in depth and flavour. But I had promised asparagus, newly in season, and I had not delivered. A letdown, then.
A more successful story involving asparagus took place in the summer of 2019. I visited a friend in Vienna and he took me to the winemaker Eric Tschida’s house on the Czech border. We barbecued the vegetable, covered it in butter, and had it with plump cuts of veal and sourdough bread from Joseph Brot, surely the finest baker in Austria.
Be sure to buy asparagus. It is a majestic vegetable and it remains one of the few whose coming into season is duly celebrated each year. I don’t know why this is. Maybe it has good PR. Morels and truffles also get equal billing as per their availability but they’re a little more echo chamber. Asparagus arrives to jubilation and it’s outrageously twee but also heartening.
Chefs do all manner of things with asparagus and that is their prerogative. I like mine cooked as simply as can be – griddled and charred and covered in butter, parmesan, and salt and pepper, or in a risotto, stalks finely shaved and spears al dente in the rice.
Another option is to prepare the vegetable with a salsa verde. You can call the sauce zesty if you like. Here’s a recipe from Leith’s graduate Pam Lloyd, now working with promotional group British Asparagus.
ASPARAGUS WITH SALSA VERDE
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 15-20 minutes
½ garlic clove
2bsp red wine vinegar
30g flat leaf parsley, just the leaves
30g basil, just the leaves
Zest of 1 lemon
150ml olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 echalion shallots
500g British asparagus
Place the garlic, red wine vinegar, parsley, basil, lemon zest, capers and
olive oil into a hand-held blender and blitz until combined but still coarse.
Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.
Chop the echalions lengthways into four quarters and drizzle with a little
Place in a smoking hot griddle pan to cook until they are soft and slightly
charred but still hold their shape.
Cut the woody ends off the asparagus and lightly oil them, then place in the
griddle pan for 2-3 minutes until charred but still tender.
Arrange the asparagus and echalions on a plate, then spoon over the salsa verde.