Let’s ignore two things for a moment. ONE: the seasons are not behaving very well this year. We had summer in March, which promised a long wonderful growing season; then winter in April, which guaranteed a late start, especially for the iconic vegetables of Spring. Like asparagus. Nettles too, but we could do without those, in fairness. Dandelions have done mightily well. But, really, is post-tiger Ireland up for eating the lawn weeds?
TWO: There is no Irish asparagus season anyway because nobody grows it here, not in commercial quantities anyway, despite evidence from the bould Regina Sexton in UCC that asparagus thrived in Cork in the nineteenth century.
Not a lot of people know about this dearth, as restaurants all over the fair isle blab away about seasonal this and local that. Honestly, the nonsense you read on menus these days.
Fear not, help is at hand, and who is that we spy riding to the rescue but Sir Ultan Walsh himself, he of Gortnanain Farm, supplier of vegetable wonders to Cafe Paradiso. Last year, he planted 900 crowns, and this year – with the help of ten heroic volunteers – he planted 3500 crowns. That’s a langerload of asparagus in any man’s language.
This year, when the sun permits, Paradiso will have a small short supply. Next year, we will have a longer, larger one. And in 2014 we will have tons of the stuff for ages, and so will any other restaurant in Ireland that wants to proudly say it serves Irish asparagus. Well, not all of them, so get in line now. We’re excited and so should you be. Great days ahead indeed.
Meanwhile, there’s some damn fine English stuff about, so make the most of it. Eat it your favourite way, then try a couple of mine. I’m calling this recipe of the month ‘asparagus two ways’ simply because it’s hard to make your mind up.
The main recipe here is asparagus and eggs, a combination that works in so many ways – asparagus with aioli, hollandaise, poached or scrambled, in a frittata or pancake. Over an omelette is the one I do most often. It’s a lunch, brunch or dinner. Don’t be fooled by the backwards title. Best instruction is to use all the asparagus you have to hand so it’s more eggs under asparagus than the other way around.
Just, please, read the recipe all the way through before you start. Or at least heed this – have absolutely everything ready before you put the eggs in the pan.
But first, taking the asparagus way out east, here’s a very simple way with a dish that works as part of a mezze, multi-course, tapas or a side to a bowl of noodles. For something very simple but intensely tasty, stir it into the bowl of noodles.
ROASTED ASPARAGUS WITH SHIITAKE, GINGER, SESAME & HONEY
12-16 spears asparagus
4 shiitake, finely diced
2 tblspns soy sauce
½ tblspn honey
1 tblespn sesame oil
1 tblspn grated ginger
1 clove garlic
1 green onion, finely chopped
Drizzle a little oil over the asparagus on an oven tray and roast in a hot oven for 5-7 minutes until just tender. Transfer to a serving dish.
At the same time, heat a little oil in a pan and cook the shiitake over medium heat for 5-7 minutes until tender.
Make a marinade with the remaining ingredients and add it to the pan. Remove from the heat and spoon some of the mushrooms in marinade over the asparagus.
FETA, ROCKET & AVOCADO OMELETTE WITH ASPARAGUS-CAPER SALSA
8-10 spears of asparagus
½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 red chilli, deseeded and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon small capers
30g feta, crumbled
small handful rocket, coarsely chopped
½ avocado, diced
Preheat the oven to 200c/400f.
Snap the ends off the asparagus spears, then slice the spears about 2 inches long on a diagonal. On an oven tray, toss the asparagus with the red onion, chilli and capers and a tablespoon of olive oil. Roast in the oven for 4-5 minutes, until the asparagus is tender and beginning to caramelise but still crisp.
At the same time, beat the eggs lightly and add three tablespoons of water. Heat your omelette pan over high heat, brush with olive oil and add the eggs. Let the eggs settle for 10-15 seconds, then lift the edge in one place and allow the uncooked egg from the top to flow underneath. Repeat a few times ove the next minute or so until the eggs are almost done. Turn the heat down to medium, quickly sprinkle the feta, rocket and avocado over one half, then flip the other half on top. Turn the heat off and leave the omelette to sit for a minute while you sort out everything else…
…which, hopefully, is a simple matter of taking the asparagus out of the oven as you’ve had the foresight to warm plates, set the table, pour prosecco, roast potatoes, make toast, tea and coffee, squeeze oranges and divide up the newspaper into bits worth reading and compost. If you haven’t done all those things, forget about them now and move onto the next step.
Cut the omelette in half, slide onto two plates, tip some of the asparagus caper salsa over the top and serve.