An ode to asparagus

24 Sep

Occasionally I find myself thinking back to my childhood days and I can’t help but giggle about the foods that I use to mindlessly devour vs. those that I couldn’t stand. In those days I thought that it was cruel and unusual punishment that I wasn’t allowed to feast on bowls of sugary cereal for breakfast, and a trip to the all-you-could-eat buffet at Pizza Hut could evoke near hysteria in my house. It’s sad but very true.

It got me thinking about the evolution of my taste buds and how they have changed and developed over the years. Sure, they have been constant, reliable friends; always at the ready for any culinary experience that may come our way but there have been times where I have had to coax them into certain foods. Sometimes gently coaxing them, other times slightly more demanding but, eventually, they came around. Flavours that I previously found repulsive, I now find palatable and, in most cases, even enjoyable. Like really, really enjoyable. Like to the point that my taste buds are now fiends for coffee, wine, beer, olives, oysters, pineapple and asparagus.

Wait?! Stop right there! Asparagus?! How could it be that there was a time that I had such distaste for asparagus that I would cringe whenever my Mum would serve it up? It wasn’t a dislike for vegetables – I was an anomaly as a child and actually loved veggies (fish fingers on the other hand instigated instant gagging). It didn’t take a lot of detective work to discover that the reason I couldn’t stomach it was that the “asparagus” we were served couldn’t have been more different from the crisp, fresh, emerald-coloured spears that frequent my dinner plate now. If you have been fortunate enough to avoid consuming limp, colourless, TINNED asparagus, go and thank your mother now. Seriously, go. I’ll wait…

Yay! You are back! Now, in defense of my mother who is the best mum and a pretty good cook (Hi Mum!), fresh asparagus was not a produce item readily available in the humid tropics. Here, in Vancouver, we are spoilt. We even get more than one option of asparagus (green and white!).

It wasn’t until I had moved away from home that I tasted the sweet spears of fresh asparagus. And once I had, there was no going back. I now steam it, bake with it, BBQ it, and I have just recently branched off into making it into soup. Or, to be precise, velouté (I just learnt that velouté translates to velvety in French – how appropriate). Although asparagus is a spring vegetable and, alas, we have now officially entered fall, I still attempted this recipe from Gordon Ramsey’s “Cooking for Friends” book. After the success of my last velouté courtesy of Mr Ramsey, I was extremely optimistic and, thankfully, the recipe did not disappoint.

So, the moral of the story (all good stories need a moral!) is always keep trying new foods even if you haven’t always had the best experience with them. Having said that if that food provokes a violent reaction (throwing up, rash, etc) then perhaps it isn’t the food for you 🙂

For me it was a case of girl meets “asparagus” = no love. Girl meets real asparagus = happily ever after.

Asparagus Velouté – Serves 4

2 large bunches of asparagus (about 800g)
1 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
30g of butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
Stripped leaves from a sprig of thyme
About 700ml hot chicken or vegetable stock
Squeeze of lemon juice (optional)
150ml double cream

Method:
Pick out 12 of the most attractive asparagus spears and cut off the tips to use for garnish. Roughly chop the rest of the asparagus and set aside.

Heat the oil and half the butter in a large pan. Add the onion, celery and some seasoning and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the chopped asparagus and thyme, and stir over high heat for another 3 to 4 minutes until the asparagus is tender but still vibrant green. Pour in just enough stock to cover, and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

Blend the soup in 2 batches while it is still hot: place half the vegetables in a blender using a slotted spoon, add 1 or 2 ladles of hot stock and blend well. TIP: Make sure your hand is tightly covering the top of the blender to avoid being showered in soup. Push the resulting purée through a fine sieve, pressing down hard with the back of a ladle.

Discard the pulp and repeat with the remaining soup. Gradually add more hot stock to the strained purée until you get a creamy consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding a little lemon juice if you like, and erring towards the side of over-seasoning if you intend to serve the soup cold.

When ready to serve, add the cream and gently reheat until it just comes to a simmer. Meanwhile, sauté the asparagus tips with the remaining butter and some seasoning in a hot frying pan. Add a splash of water and cover the pan. Let the asparagus steam for 2 to 3 minutes until just tender.

Pour the soup into warm bowls and garnish with the asparagus tips. Drizzle over a little olive oil and serve immediately.   DSC_0037

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