Friday, April 27, 2012

Asparagus – a feast of ferns !

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Over the years, several strange gifts have appeared on my doorstep. Once, just after moving into a new home, the doorstep vanished under a stunning 12ft Christmas tree ... I took an educated guess and reciprocated with homemade mince pies, wonderful neighbour.
Less delightfully... in a different house on a stormy Hallowe’en, I went to answer a loud knock at the door. There, glowing eerily in the darkness, was a large, elaborately carved Jack-O-Lantern, complete with flickering candle. That was plain spooky, particularly given how isolated the house was. I slammed and double-locked the door.
Apart from the odd tray of seedlings/bottle of Baileys from the neighbours, nothing unexpected or mysterious has appeared on my last few doorsteps ... until this week. Just as I was craving healthy greens, there appeared a bouquet of asparagus. I am utterly clueless as to where this beautiful bouquet came from, but I know exactly how I am going to deal with it.
I am going to bend each fat fern until it snaps, leaving a woody stalk (for vegetable stock) and a tender spear.
My No. 1 way of cooking asparagus:
I am going to take enough spears to feed two people, anoint them with extra virgin olive oil, spread them in a single layer on a baking tray, sprinkle on some Maldon sea salt and a twist of black pepper and roast them at 180°C until the tips start to crisp and brown – about 10 minutes - to be eaten immediately, forks optional.

Awesome asparagus!
 The rest of this gorgeous bouquet of ferns will be lightly pickled in olive oil and lemon juice as follows:
275mls white wine vinegar
225mls extra virgin olive oil
100 mls freshly squeezed lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon, cut into large strips. (try to avoid the white pith as this can be very bitter)
3 or 4 sprigs of fresh mint
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons fine table salt
500g asparagus spears

You will also need a 1 litre sterilised jar (run it through the dishwasher, or wash it thoroughly and dry it in the oven at 100°C).

1                    Place all the ingredients except the asparagus, in a large saucepan over a medium heat and bring to the boil, stirring once or twice to make sure the sugar has dissolved.
2                    When the mixture is boiling carefully add the asparagus spears. Cover the saucepan with a lid and continue to let the mixture bubble for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
3                    Transfer the hot asparagus to the jar, then pass the liquid through a strainer, into the jar to cover the asparagus. Leave to cool before sealing. Store in the fridge for up to two weeks, although it is ready to eat straight away – as a starter, or added to salad. Allow to come back to room temperature before serving to get the full delicious asparagus/lemon flavour. The pickling juice also makes an unusual salad dressing. 

Pickled asparagus won't win any beauty contests but your tastebuds will love it!
Pickled asparagus isn’t going to win any beauty contests but oh, your tastebuds will love it!
Cork World Book Fest Food Blogging Workshop - I had a blast in Cork last weekend giving the food blogging workshop. It was booked out despite the nasty weather and it was a delight to meet both seasoned and fledgling bloggers and to see that the Irish Food Bloggers Association was well represented. A huge thank you to my hosts, Cork City Libraries, and their awesome librarian, Ann Riordan!
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