Saturday, 14 May 2011

More Asparagus. And Meat (black pudding, chorizo and steak).

One of the problems of the short, if not as short as it used to be, asparagus season, as with the whole seasonality movement (if that’s what we’re calling it) is that, while you can, you feel compelled to come home with a bunch every time you go shopping.  And after a while, even the delights of asparagus can begin to pall, and thinking up something new to do with it can even begin to feel like a chore, when it should be a joy.

Don’t give up!  On seasonality or asparagus.  Ok, don’t feel obliged – never feel obliged – to pick up the British Asparagus just because it’s there.  Maybe take a bunch every second trip.  As for different things to do with it, maybe I can help, in my own small way.

We’ve covered poached eggs, and char-grilling, and salads with Jersey Royals, and you can always have it on it’s own, with hollandaise sauce, or vinaigrette, or just dressed in butter (not if Becca’s around, obviously) or olive oil (even if she is).  But as well as asparagus goes with all those things, there are plenty of perhaps less obvious things it pairs up with too. 

Black pudding for instance, or chorizo, or both together.  Throw them all together with those jersey Royals (again, or other varieties of new potato are always, of course, available, and will do fine) in a stew, with a splash of white wine and light stock, or even just stirred together in the pan with just olive oil and cooking juices.  If you’re doing that, be sure to cook the ingredients separately (I steam my asparagus over the potatoes), and just bring them together in the frying pan (or a wok is good for this kind of cooking, which after all, is pretty much a stir fry).  It makes a quick, easy and delicious supper, pretty much a hot salad, which is perfect for these warm spring days with their just slightly nippy evenings.

I did a variation of the stew version a couple of weeks ago, on one of the rare days we’ve had recently that didn’t actually think it was high summer rather than what was then still earlyish spring.  It was a day I didn’t have any chorizo in the house either, but I did have bacon and broad beans so I chucked those in too.  Again, even though it’s a stew, it’s a quick, light one, and you want everything to retain it’s freshness and bite, so don’t cook it all together in the stewpot, throw the ingredients together when they’re pretty much done.  It really isn’t much extra work, or washing up.  First thing I did was bring the potatoes to the boil in the base of my steamer pan, then steamed the asparagus and the broad beans together over them (I put the asparagus in first, gave it two minutes then added the beans for a further two) before refreshing them in cold water till I was ready to add them to the stew.  I drained off the potatoes after just ten minutes on the boil so they were still just par-boiled.  Meanwhile I’d fried up my bacon, cut into roughly 1cm pieces, and my black pudding, diced into big chunks (or just sliced, depending on the size of your sausage) then added a small red onion (or half a big one), cut into wedges.  Once the onion was softening, I added the potatoes and half a glass of wine, and just enough stock to cover the base of the pan to a depth of no more than a centimetre.  I let that cook covered, at a gentle simmer, for about ten minutes, until the potatoes were just cooked through, then I strained the asparagus and beans of their refreshing water and stirred them into the stew, which I finished with a good handful of parsley and a sprinkling of paprika.

For a simple, and very beautiful lunch dish just dice up a small cooking chorizo and fry it lightly in a little olive oil, take it off the heat and add a generous slug of extra virgin olive oil and let that infuse both the flavour and colour of pork and paprika. Meanwhile steam or boil your asparagus (3-5 minutes depending on the thickness of the stems).  Spoon the olive oil and chorizo over the asparagus on the plate, either on toast or, as I did here, just with pitta bread (or any good bread) on the side to mop up that delicious oil. 

Or fry up some mushrooms and diced black pudding, and make a bed of them for your steamed, boiled or chargrilled asparagus.  This would definitely benefit from being served on toast, or as I’ve been doing recently, on good white bread lightly fried in olive oil and, for reasons I can’t quite explain, with the crusts cut off.  It just feels right (and tastes good).

For a more substantial lunch there’s always the asparagus and jersey royal salad we’ve discussed before, and you can turn that into a substantial dinner by the simple addition of sliced rare steak, making it, obviously, an asparagus, Jersey Royal and steak salad.  It’s essentially a seasonal variation on the potato, beetroot and bean salad with steak that I’ve posted previously, and I believe it may just be possible that this dish, in at least one of its variations, is something that I could make a claim to having invented, for what that’s worth*.  As I recall, I came up with it (this version, with asparagus) off the top of my head in a Ready Steady Cook scenario of suddenly having to stretch two small steaks into a properly satisfying meal for three, and have no recollection of having come across any version of it before, or since for that matter.  I can’t think why, because it is really good, in all its variations, but this one, with asparagus and Jersey Royals, is probably best of all.  It is also perfect for those cheaper but no less tasty cuts of steak – flank, feather or skirt; onglet or hanger – which are ideally suited to searing rare and slicing thin.  Which makes it even better in my book.  Better still, because you’re serving the steak sliced thin, a little goes a long way - one small steak will be ample for two good appetites, or half a big one, Becca and I have healthy appetites as regular readers will be aware, but half of a 410g Aberdeen Angus Feather steak from Waitrose, costing all of £3.48 (for the whole) did us fine, with a 250g bunch of asparagus and 500g of Jerseys.

Just cook your asparagus and potatoes and make a salad of them, by dressing the potatoes, while still freshly hot, with the zest and juice of half a lemon, salt, pepper and a good slug of olive oil, then (and by all means do this while the potatoes are still hot, or leave them to go cold – personally I think it’s best when they are just no longer hot enough to wilt the asparagus, perhaps fifteen minutes after they’ve been drained) adding the refreshed asparagus spears and some finely sliced red onion.  Meanwhile get your frying pan smoking hot , salt, pepper and oil your steak, then cook it, for just about a minute, minute and a half on either side, really just searing it, then leave to rest for at least ten minutes before slicing it thin and laying it over the salad. Finally, in order to stop them wilting, add some spiky (in a flavour sense) leaves, rocket or maybe watercress, dressed generously in a mustard heavy vinaigrette.

* Which is not much. It’s a salad. Any claim to have ‘invented’ any particular variant of the infinite number of ways in which a near infinite number of things can be mixed together and be called a salad, is pretty tenuous and almost entirely meaningless.

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