Stalking the first of the year’s asparagus

Here is a beautifully quick risotto that even the novice cook can pull off

Asparagus tip: this vegetable should cook in no time – just keep swirling the pot continuously

Asparagus tip: this vegetable should cook in no time – just keep swirling the pot continuously

 

By the time these words reach you, the first Irish asparagus will have landed safely on our shop shelves and in farmers' markets.

Asparagus is such a difficult vegetable to grow. Just ask Marita Collier from Drummond House in Co Louth. It takes at least three years to get a return on your crop and these delicate green spears are then subject to wind, frost and heat.

I’ve already tasted this year’s crop, cooking them in a little butter and water. I usually foam the butter in a pot large enough to take the spears and then roll them in the golden froth. A little cold water will stop the butter burning and control the heat.

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The asparagus should cook in no time – just keep swirling the pot continuously. A sprinkle of coarse salt to finish should be enough but some like to add a little lime or lemon juice for a greater acidity.

A recipe for cooking asparagus is listed in one of the oldest surviving collection of recipes (Apicius’s third-century BC De re coquinaria, Book III). Apicius recommends peeled, washed, dried and “immersed in boiling water backwards”.

Chopped chives

Mary Berry has a beautifully quick asparagus risotto that I think even the novice cook can pull off. My only complaint is that I think the asparagus goes in too soon in her recipe. Here’s my version. Fry some onions and garlic and add some risotto rice. After a moment, deglaze the pan with white wine. Then begin to ladle vegetable or chicken stock into the risotto until the rice is cooked. Make sure each ladleful has evaporated before adding another.

When the rice is almost cooked, add your chopped asparagus spears and cook until tender. Stir in a large knob of butter, some good quality hard farmhouse cheese (she uses Parmesan) and some chopped chives.

Berry also adds mushrooms to her risotto, but I prefer to leave them out of spring cooking, unless they’re morels.

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