Aspire to Asparagus
The British asparagus season runs from the end of April until June and is a cause for celebration. Having eschewed inferior imports since the end of last season I intend to spend the month of May gorging on it, as it is by far my favourite vegetable. The British Asparagus Producers Association website (http://britishasparagus.com/) recommends five methods of cooking asparagus, which are: boil, steam, grill, roast and barbecue. While each practice has its merits, and I fully intend to deploy all five, I have, with age, come to the view that simple steaming is the best way of cooking the stuff; with the critical caveat that timing is everything. Crunchy, undercooked spears are always a disappointment, but soggy overcooked asparagus is a crime against humanity. My modus operandi with all but the stoutest stems is to rinse them under a tap and trim off the root ends and then place them in a heavy, cast-iron lidded pot with about a centimetre's depth of water in the bottom. I then bring the pan to the boil and as soon as it is steaming remove it from the heat and then check the asparagus every minute or so until it is nearly cooked, before 'refreshing' it momentarily it under cold water. It should finish cooking on latent heat – a fact which is often overlooked, which is why overcooking is a common problem.
There is no doubting asparagus's versatility and I like it as much as an ingredient to soups, salads, quiches and frittatas as I do as a side dish, but I think its rightful place is really on its own – centre stage. Fellow enthusiasts enjoy it with poached eggs, pancetta, Iberico ham or hollandaise sauce, but it really needs nothing more than some good olive oil, salt and pepper and perhaps a delicate shaving of parmesan.
There are myriad options in terms of wine accompaniments. Although Vermentino or Chenin Blanc can both work well, I think cool climate Sauvignon is really the order of the day. With its aromas of nettles and elderflower that are so evocative of Spring, and its crisp, zesty finish it is a food and wine match made in heaven. A lightly-chilled bottle of this month's Menetou Salon would be perfect. I turn 50 in May and there are no prizes for guessing how I intend to celebrate.