Produce report: September 26
Hallelujah! Asparagus has finally arrived, heralding the season of our much-awaited spring produce. These delightful spears will be with us for the next couple of months so there’s plenty of opportunity to check out the recipes in our extensive asparagus collection.
Whether you choose thick or thin spears is up to you but you don’t want your bunch to be a mix of both. Thin are sweeter and quicker to cook and thick have a more pronounced asparagus flavour. However, according to Joyce Lowyim, owner of Auckland’s IE Produce, organic asparagus really does beat the lot when it comes to taste. Another advantage: Joyce says the much-discussed asparagus pee smell is replaced with something a whole lot sweeter when you choose organic. Time for a blind tasting at your place, perhaps?
Because she is at the store from 5am and doesn’t leave until 7pm, Joyce has become a master at quick meal prep. She cuts her asparagus Chinese-style, long and thin and on an angle across the grain to steam it quickly in a pan with the lid off (so as not to turn it yellow) or else she stir-fries it with chicken and organic bacon pieces which she has crisped first in coconut oil (bacon fat removed); otherwise Joyce stir-fries asparagus with salted dry black beans. “So yummy,” she says.
Asparagus is also great barbecued. A few lightly charred spears are just the thing for instantly summery meals. Try it Delaney Mes’ way here:
Snap the woody ends off 2 bunches of asparagus and drizzle with 1 Tbsp olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and squeeze over some lemon juice. Cook the asparagus on the barbecue for 5-10 minutes until lightly charred. In a bowl place 2 heaped Tbsp ricotta, a pinch of sea salt, a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of lemon zest and a pinch of chilli flakes. Mix together well. Serve with the asparagus and scatter over a small handful of chopped almonds if liked. Serves 4 as a side dish.
When choosing asparagus look for bright green spears that are firm with tightly closed tips. The NZ Asparagus Council says fresh asparagus is “squeaky” — when the spears are gently rubbed they squeak; old asparagus is rubbery and doesn’t squeak. Do not buy any bunches with dry or brown ends or with too much white on the lower stalk.
To store, trim the ends as you would a bunch of flowers. Leave the bunch tied with its rubber band and refrigerate upright in a jar with an inch or so of water in the bottom. Change the water when it gets cloudy. Otherwise, dampen a paper towel and wrap it around the cut ends so they don’t dry out. Replace with a new wet towel every few days. Asparagus should last for up to a week in the fridge.
To remove the woody ends when it comes time to cook, simply hold the asparagus spear and bend it to snap so you are left with a tender stalk. The bottoms can be saved for soup. However, if this feels like wasteful sacrilege to you, simply cut off the tough end and peel the base of each stalk, as was once common practice.
Asparagus can also be frozen. Once the tough ends are removed, chop it into evenly sized smallish pieces. Blanch quickly, transfer to an ice bath to cool completely, drain and dry. Store in a sealed container or ziplock bag and add frozen to soups. Frozen asparagus will keep for about a year.
Asparagus is rich in B vitamins, vitamins A, C, E, K and folate. It includes iron, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, selenium and potassium.
Other good vegetable buys are shallots, leeks and kale. Kiwifruit and avocados continue to be affordable fruit buys and treats of the week are imported pomegranates, strawberries and cheap Tongan coconuts.
Meanwhile on a weekend soon, why not treat the family with Angela Casley’s eggs benedict on asparagus.