Asparagus: the taste of summer

May is the month for this edible grass, a totem of brighter and hotter days

Asparagus has been cooked since Egyptian times. Greeks and Romans ate it fresh when in season, and dried the vegetable for use in winter. Photograph: Getty Images

Asparagus has been cooked since Egyptian times. Greeks and Romans ate it fresh when in season, and dried the vegetable for use in winter. Photograph: Getty Images

 

It’s finally summer – the asparagus has arrived! What is it about this green spear, which bears so much seasonal weight? I always associate summer with asparagus but with the mad weather we seem to have missed spring completely. Unless it’s only spring now? Whatever the season, May is the month for this edible grass which has, over the course of centuries, transformed itself into a totem of brighter and hotter days.

From humble wild origins (it was once a member of the lily family, now it has its own), “sparrow grass” has been cooked since Egyptian times. Greeks and Romans ate it fresh when in season, and dried the vegetable for use in winter (I must try this!). Maybe a winter asparagus broth is on the cards, with some dried scallop. And seaweed of course! That would be a real tribute to Irish food – a little bit of summer shining out of the depths of winter.

The Romans loved to bury asparagus in ice or snow and preserve it for the winter months. Why don’t we do this? I mean freezing our own Irish asparagus for the winter instead of importing it from Peru.

Breakfast

Asparagus suits breakfast time really well and is a welcome alternative to the sausage. We all know eating less meat is a good thing. So maybe one sausage and one spear of asparagus instead of two sausages. It makes sense. 

I recently put it on the menu in our cafe and wine bar, Tartare. We served it with kale and rye and a few sea herbs, like orache and sea beet. Rye is an Irish grain that’s often overlooked. It’s simple to cook and adds texture and fibre to your meal.  Cook the rye in water until it’s soft and then strain. Blanch your asparagus for 30 seconds in boiling water and then transfer into a hot pan with some butter. At the last minute, add the kale leaves and a little of the water to help them cook. Fold in the rye, season with sea salt and you’re done! 

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