Annabel Langbein: Three ways with asparagus
Years ago, when I was earning my stripes as a film caterer and food stylist, I landed a job with an American film crew who flew out to shoot a yoghurt commercial. Snow had unseasonably dumped all over the verdant green grass of their shoot in the American Rockies, so a speedy relocation was required, which happened to be Fox Glacier.
I was instructed to make ready for the opening scene, which involved a rustic table laden with fruits out in the middle of a lush green paddock, the cameras panning through the dawn light up into the snow-clad mountains and back across the table of bounty ... a slow drizzle of golden sun-lit honey falling on to the hero product - a large bowl of creamy white-as-snow yoghurt.
"We want cherries, lots of cherries", they clamoured, "money is no object." I rang Balducci's in New York and Harrods in London, I contacted produce markets all over the globe, but there were no fresh cherries to be found on the planet. Cherries are an early-summer fruit. Nowhere in the world is April early summer. Early spring, yes; summer, no.
In desperation I resorted to enlisting the art and makeup department to paint small polystyrene balls with nail polish in an attempt to fulfill my director's mandate.
Yes, fake cherries.
It can be hard to realise, especially if you live in a city where almost any fruit or veg you want can be sourced year-round, that nature doesn't work on command. Thanks to glasshouse technology, summer-harvesting crops such as tomatoes, eggplants and cucumbers are now available year-round.
Apples, pears, kiwifruit, onions, pumpkins and garlic can be stored until the next season harvest rolls round a whole year later. And in the opposite parts of the globe, someone somewhere is growing corn, beans and zucchini.
But some things won't be tamed. Of the fleeting and ephemeral tastes that nature brings to our tables, asparagus is the king. Long known as the harbinger of spring, asparagus pushes its sweet, fat stalks through the earth as the soil warms and the daylight hours start to stretch out. This is the moment we have waited for.
The arrival of asparagus means it's time to get out the lawnmower out, along with the sunscreen and beach bag. The arrival of asparagus is all the notice you need to know that summer is just around the corner.
Asparagus makes a happy partner to lots of flavours - bacon, prosciutto, garlic, ginger, Asian sauces, all kinds of nuts, capers, parmesan, butter, olive oil and any kind of protein, especially eggs. Instead of toast soldiers, try dipping lightly cooked asparagus spears into soft-boiled eggs - it's really delicious. Get the recipe
Be sure to consume asparagus before the tips start to open, as once this happens a substance called lignin is produced, making the bottom part of the stalk tougher. This is the plant's way of preparing the stalks to bear the weight of the ferns that the stems turn into as they mature.
To trim asparagus, snap off the tough bottom end of the stalk at the point at which it becomes tender. Get the recipe
Once asparagus spears emerge from the earth, they grow incredibly fast - and the warmer the temperature, the quicker they grow, reaching up to 15cm in a 24-hour period. In the same way that tulips grow taller in a vase of water, so do asparagus spears.
If you don't plan to eat asparagus right away, store it standing upright in a jug of cold water in the fridge. It will continue to grow, but the flavour will be less intense. Get the recipe
For more great Annabel Langbein recipes see her new winter annual Annabel Langbein A Free Range Life: Share the Love (Annabel Langbein Media, $24.95) or visit annabel-langbein.com.