One of the most celebrated seasonal vegetables in Britain is the asparagus. It’s a gem only available in the UK for a short period of time in spring and it’s worth waiting for the season. Freshly picked, it has a powerful unique flavour that stand-out in your meals.
When is the growing season?
Nowadays, asparagus is available almost all year round in supermarkets but it will only be at their best in season, traditionally starting the 23rd April in St George’s Day and ending the 23rd June in Midsummers Day. Asparagus is very climate dependent, so they depend on the weather that may change the seasons.
The native English asparagus (asparagus officinalis) is the green variety, as it is matured in the sunshine, contrasting with the white variety, which is deprived of light when growing. They take roughly 3 to 4 years to produce from the day the seed is planted and need saline soils because the plant often originated in maritime habitats, what makes an appreciated vegetable difficult to grow.
The only edible part of the vegetable are the young shoots, and in fact, the word comes from the Greek ‘asparagos’, meaning ‘sprout’.
The Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire is renowned for ‘gras’ production, as they call them. The British Asparagus Festival is held in town, where numerous events take place throughout the Vale, making this a good opportunity to show the people the power of this vegetable. Several local pubs and restaurants offer special asparagus menus and all the local farmers’ markets sell them along the county.
Select and storage your asparagus
When you buy asparagus in your local market, go for firm and smooth stalks with an evenly bright green colour and compact and unwrinkled heads, but do not get obsessed for the appearance, as sometimes imperfect vegetables are the tastiest. The most important thing is to look for freshly cut ends.
Asparagus are recommended to be stored in a vase of water as flowers and they will stay firm for up to a week, but they can also keep well in the fridge for a few days. It is always advised to eat them as freshest as possible to not lose all the flavour.
The vegetable is grown in sandy soil, so always make sure you wash them thoroughly removing any grit before cooking. Cut any tough ends or peel with a vegetable peeler if necessary.
Preparation and cooking
Asparagus is easy and simple to prepare and can be cooked in many ways. In general terms, fine thin asparagus suit for slightly grilling, stir-frying, roasting so you can appreciate their crispness. Thicker spears are good for steaming, as you can appreciate their tender meaty texture with hollandaise sauce, butter or any other dressing. Very fresh asparagus are perfect very lightly steamed with a squirt of lemon or even tossed raw in salads.
When you decide to boil or steam, it is always wise to tie them in bundles of a dozen of even–sized spears for cooking, so they can be removed all at once. Boil for roughly 5 minutes upright with the steams submersed in salted water, so the tender tips get lightly steamed.
Asparagus wilts when it is overcooked, so make sure you check the spears are tender enough with the point of a knife and carefully leave the bundle out, lay on to a tea towel to drain. When served, they are ideally eaten slightly warm, not being too hot.
The best way to enjoy your fresh asparagus is using it in a salad. Select the youngest and finest spears, chop roughly and combine with fresh peas, sundried tomato, feta cheese and lemon dressing. You can also prepare a warm salad by steaming for a minute or two.
Maybe, the most common way in Britain are grilled or roasted with lemon butter or steamed and covered in hollandaise sauce, but there are plenty of possibilities with this versatile and delicate ingredient: asparagus frittata, risotto, cheese gratins, stir-fries, stews, pickled, wrapped in Serrano ham or smoked salmon or turned into soup or cream.
A good seasonal combo would be tossed with morels, stir fried with wild garlic and lemon butter or taking the advantage of the wide range of spring greens, which certainly, will make your meals more exciting.