An ode to English asparagus

Emblazoned on a makeshift sign at the side of the busy ring road, I was captivated by a sequence of nine words. Akin to beautiful poetry to me, these nine words signalled the arrival of one of my very favourite times of year.

“Horsforth ready picked asparagus fresh at the PYO daily”.

 

Yes, we’re currently in the midst of THE season of the year – English Asparagus season.  We all know that seasonal produce is best, and is there really any finer produce than fresh English asparagus? I mean, really?

I ADORE asparagus, and count myself very lucky to have a field full of the stuff just minutes from my house in Rodley. Find the makeshift sign at the side of the ring road from Rodley to Horsforth, and you’ll be led along a gravel road that unfurls alongside fields and country houses. You may think you’re driving up the path to nowhere but don’t be fooled – you’ll eventually arrive at your destination and if you’re anything like me, your heart will skip a beat and you’ll become delirious with excitement! (As Rob will testify, this is not an exaggeration!)

 

A modest field is unveiled as the birthplace of those artful spears, spears which elegantly sprout from the ground as they slowly awake from their nourishing slumber. And adjacent to this field is the simple green shack where you collect your emerald prize – heaving bundles of those beautiful spears picked fresh from the field that same day.

The English asparagus season is so short that it’s imperative that we don’t waste a precious second of it, so I’ve been making regular visits to the PYO to collect my treasure. Unlike the sparse, uniform and pale bunches from Peru that you’ll find in the supermarket, this little hut arranges bulging bundles of vibrant green spears in a multitude of shapes and sizes. You can choose a ready-prepared mixed selection, or they’ll ask you if you have a preference for size and prepare you a bundle specially. Covered in soil and picked from the ground just hours (or sometimes, minutes) before your arrival, it’s the epitome of fresh, seasonal produce at its very, very best, demanding the utmost respect and adoration. Just make sure you get there early – the sign may say 12-5pm, but word has got out about just how good this asparagus is, and you can arrive at 12.15pm on some days and it will be sold out!

This asparagus is genuinely the best I have EVER tasted, and as such I’ve been having asparagus for almost every meal during this season. I’ve experimented with various recipes  but there’s one classic that I keep returning to. It’s the recipe that asparagus seems to be made for, the GOD of asparagus recipes that makes you want to make it again as soon as you’ve devoured your last bite. I’m of course talking about asparagus and poached eggs.

I’ve jotted my recipe below, which fuses elements of a recipe recommended to me by @seanmurricane, who in turn was inspired by a Heston take on the ULTIMATE asparagus dish. The trick is the frying of the asparagus – I’ve normally steamed asparagus in the past, but this method produces stunning results, even if I do say so myself!

RECIPE: English asparagus and poached eggs
(serves two as a light snack or accompaniment to a meal)

You’ll need:
A bundle of fresh English asparagus. The longer and fatter the spears, the better!

Extra virgin olive oil

2 – 4 free range eggs, depending on how hungry you are!  Just make sure that they’re as fresh as possible.

White wine vinegar or a suitable alternative (I use rice wine vinegar)

Rock salt and black pepper for seasoning

Boiling Water

To prepare:
Put two pans on a medium-high heat – a saucepan filled with boiling water and a frying pan coated with extra virgin olive oil.

Start cooking:
1. Snap the woody stalks off the ends of the asparagus spears (they should break naturally) and wash thoroughly

2.  Add the asparagus to the hot frying pan, season with freshly ground rock salt and black pepper and cover with a lid

3. Shake regularly and cook for five minutes, or until the asparagus is cooked but still bright green. To check if it’s cooked, I do the ‘taste test’ – just take a bite and check it’s cooked how you like it! I like mine al dente.

4. While the asparagus is cooking it’s time to get started on the poached eggs, so add a generous splash of white wine vinegar to the pan of boiling water

5. Crack an egg into a ramekin, then swirl the boiling water with a spoon and add the egg so that the swirling water causes the egg white to envelope the yolk

6. Poach for 2-4 minutes depending on how runny you like your egg, then remove the egg and rest on warm plate.

7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 with the second egg. If you’re really good at multi-tasking (and don’t mind lots of washing up!) you could put 2 pans onto boil at the same time, or you could use a very big pan to poach multiple eggs at the same time. I’ve tried this and it wasn’t a success, but I’m sure it’s possible so give it a go!

8. Remove the asparagus pan from the heat and drain the asparagus on kitchen paper to remove excess oil

9. Arrange the asparagus on a plate, top with the poached eggs and eat!

You can serve it on its own as a light snack, or as an accompaniment – I had it here with leftover Patatas Bravas from the amazing Ambiente Tapas, rescued from their impending doom after a severe case of over-ordering!

How do you like your asparagus? Do share – we’ve still got some time before the season ends so let’s make the most of it!

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