Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella would most probably have sung along in merry agreement with Joe Cocker’s song, 'The best things in life are the simple things'. Columella (AD4–70), thought to have been the most important agricultural writer in the Roman Empire, wrote that the Romans ate their asparagus fresh-cooked with a pool of melted butter, pepper, salt and a squeeze of citron. Yes! Simple and delicious, I'm with you Columella, that’s the best way to serve and eat asparagus.
According to the Australian Asparagus Council, asparagus cultivation began more than 2,000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean region and the vegetable was widely cultivated for its tender, succulent, edible shoots. With its sophistication and unique herbaceous flavour it is no wonder that the popularity of fresh asparagus has stood the test of time.
Joe Vizzarri, President of the Australian Asparagus Council is looking forward to a good season. “The start of the 2011 season is looking pretty good. White and green asparagus is in full swing and purple asparagus should also be soon available with the warmer weather in October/November.” And, Mr Vizzarri reminds us, although most people think of asparagus as a Spring vegetable, not many are aware that the Aussie growing season extends from September to March. Asparagus is not only delicious, but it’s also packed with nutritional goodies, such as fibre and folate.
Aussie asparagus growers are encouraging us to ‘Throw a Spear on the Barbie’ this season, so snap, brush, sprinkle and cook! Simple. Snap off the woody ends, brush the spears with olive oil, sprinkle with salt flakes and cook on a hot barbecue until tender, just 1-2 minutes per side. Peter and I often enjoy a light lunch or dinner of steamed or grilled asparagus with a soft boiled egg and ham. Add a little toast for a more filling meal. Asparagus is also lovely as antipasto, chargrilled and wrapped in prosciutto and served with roasted tomatoes, cheese and char-grilled Turkish bread.
Asparagus and strawberries compliment each other beautifully, especially in salads. Try my Spring salad with Smoked Chicken, Asparagus and Strawberries. Another of my favourite Asparagus and Strawberry salad recipes is from Cooking with Asparagus by Lena Raab (DuMont 2001). Sadly, this book is no longer in print and I think I might have the only copy in the country. Rinse a bunch of asparagus, snap off the ends and cook quickly in water seasoned with salt, sugar and a little strawberry vinegar (to taste). Remove the asparagus and rinse in icy water. Arrange in a dish. Make a marinade with the asparagus water, strawberry vinegar, oil, salt, white pepper and a pinch of sugar. Pour over the asparagus. Wash a punnet of strawberries and puree 40g of them. Cut the remaining strawberries into quarters and mix with the puree. Pour this over the asparagus. Serve.
Good Things in season and ripe for the market basket each month.