Asparagus spears pop out of the dark earth giving us the green-light signal that warmer, brighter days are finally here. They are a welcome late-spring and early-summer flavour to perk up our plates, just as some people might feel they’ve been living under dark earth for most of the year themselves.
THERE’S LOTS OF ❢ ASPARAGUS
Here for a good time but not a long time, it’s important to try and get the most out of your stalks; keeping asparagus moist is helpful for this, so keep spears in a jar of water in the milk compartment of your fridge. If you want to use your asparagus raw for salads, pop the spears in some icy water to help give them a bit more life if they’re looking tired. Also, although the woody ends of spears can be annoying, they’re still totally edible with enough cooking so avoid snapping and discarding them – if you’re not going to use them immediately, freeze the ends and add them to sauces and soups at a later date.
TRY THESE TOO…
Grilled sardines with pickled asparagus
Quickly blanch asparagus and place in a bowl of iced water to prevent over-cooking. Transfer to a jar or container with a few strips of lemon zest and lightly crushed garlic cloves. Heat together a brine of 2 cups apple cider vinegar, 1 cup water, 1 tablespoon raw sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and pour over asparagus. Leave to pickle and cool for 2-4 hours then serve with grilled sardines and toasted sourdough.
Shaved asparagus & broad beans with lemon & black pepper
Use a vegetable peeler to shave asparagus into thin strands. Dress with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and a small crushed clove of garlic. Add just-cooked broad beans, fresh mint and some grated pecorino and toss.
Asparagus rolls with saffron aioli
Roast or blanch well-seasoned asparagus and wrap snugly in generously buttered soft bread of your liking – (crusty sourdough, we love you but now is not your moment). Whisk together good-quality mayonnaise with lemon juice, bloomed threads of saffron, a pinch of cayenne pepper and a crushed roasted or raw garlic clove. Serve mayonnaise as a dip for asparagus rolls. Pour a glass of chilled, zippy white wine like chenin blanc or a dry riesling and enjoy.
Barbecued asparagus with wasabi & garlic butter
In a food processor, whizz together 100g room-temperature butter with the zest of a lemon, 1 tablespoon wasabi paste, a good pinch of sea salt, 2 cloves garlic and some fresh tarragon or parsley. Barbecue asparagus until blistered and just cooked, then place in a large bowl with the butter and toss. Tip onto a platter and top with fresh herbs and a sliced, barbecued lemon.
Make It Yourself ❢
Cheesemaking is a lot of fun and makes for a great weekend project. Like sourdough and other fermented things, it takes time but not much of your own time. We’re not experts at all – a few years ago after a cheese-kit purchase we tried our hand at mozzarella, haloumi, ricotta and burrata, but lockdown sparked a desire to get some curds going again. This is a simple feta recipe that calls for vegetable rennet – you’ll find this online or in some speciality food stores like Bin Inn or Farro. Other than that you just need a clean kitchen, a thermometer, a few ingredients and a chunk of time.
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Feta, rice & jalapeño-stuffed green peppers
Mix cooked, cooled rice – any type works – with finely sliced parsley, dill and coriander (or any leafy herbs you have), crumbled feta, finely sliced garlic and diced pickled jalapeños. Add a couple of tablespoons of unsweetened yoghurt or sour cream, olive oil, lemon zest and a good pinch of hot paprika. Season well, then scoop into halved peppers and top with a grated hard cheese. Roast or barbecue until peppers are soft and blistered and the rice is hot.
Sherry vinegar-roasted zucchini with feta & currants
Thinly slice some zucchini and sprinkle with salt. Leave for 30 minutes for the salt to draw out some moisture from the zucchini. Dab off all the moisture and add slices to a roasting dish with olive oil, sherry vinegar, a sprinkle of raw sugar and plenty of cracked black pepper. Roast until zucchini slices are soft. Remove from oven and top with feta and currants while still warm. Eat with bread and salad greens for a light meal, or makes a great side dish for chicken or fish.
Celebrate the staples ❢
Even though the festive season here in Aotearoa is less about cosy meals and more focussed on fresh summer dining, there’s still a magic that comes from the warming smells and flavours of spices at this time of year. These bagels are great toasted and slathered with butter or cream cheese and will freeze well in an airtight container.
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One-bowl ginger & kūmara loaf
This recipe is inspired by Will’s mum Sarah’s amazing kūmara and ginger cake. Beat together 4 eggs, 275ml of neutral oil, 1 cup brown sugar and 1⁄4 cup golden syrup. Stir in 3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger, 2 large grated orange kūmara and the zest of 1 orange or lemon. Sift in 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg and 2 tablespoons ground ginger. Gently mix until just combined, then pour into a large, lined loaf tin and bake at 180°C for 45 minutes to an hour. You may like to split this between two loaf tins depending on size.
Nutmeg & rosemary butter on roasted potatoes or yams
Whizz slightly softened butter with roughly chopped fresh rosemary, lemon zest, ground nutmeg and a sprinkle of sea salt. Scoop onto baking paper or back into the butter wrapper and refrigerate until ready to use. Add to potatoes, kūmara or yams in the final few minutes of cooking.
Cinnamon & citrus zest polenta cookies
Place 100g butter, 90g caster sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 50g polenta, 150g flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder into a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the zest of one small orange or lemon and a teaspoon of vanilla extract if desired. Pulse again until a dough forms. Shape into small balls, press with a fork and bake for 10-12 minutes at 180°C.
Paprika, nutmeg, chilli & maple-roasted almonds
Whisk together maple syrup, olive oil, ground nutmeg, chilli flakes, chopped rosemary and sea salt. Pour over almonds in a roasting dish and toss to coat. Roast for 10-15 minutes or until nuts are roasted through but not burnt, so keep a close eye on them.
Reinventing the Meal ❢
Somewhere between a trifle, a tiramisu and a little chocolate-studded ricotta cake we ate outside a small bakery in the seaside town of Scopello in Sicily, this dessert is worth the minor fiddle of making different elements to be layered. The cake will last for a few days in a sealed container and the ricotta cream will also keep for a few days if refrigerated so you might like to make those elements in advance.
TRY THESE TOO…
Roast fruit with sponge crumbs
Roughly chop or crumble any leftover off-cuts from the ricotta & chocolate-chip cake used in the trifle. Mix crumbs with leftover ricotta, mascarpone or a small amount of melted butter and spoon onto halved fruit such as peaches, apricots, pears or apples. Sprinkle with raw sugar and roast until fruit is soft and sticky.
Zabaglione marsala custard
Thanks to Ale – the wonderful chef we lived with whilst working in Piedmont – for sharing this process with us. Use the ratio of 1egg yolk to ½ an egg shell of sugar and ½ a shell of marsala per person and scale as needed. Whisk ingredients together over a double boiler until a light, aerated custard forms. Zabaglione can be served with a light biscuit – something with hazelnuts or almonds is delicious – or sponge finger for dipping.
QUICK SPICED BRANDY & CARAMEL SAUCE
Place 200g butter, 1 x 395g tin condensed milk, 1 tablespoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 100g brown sugar in a pot. Gently heat, stirring often, until the butter has melted. Remove from heat and whisk in ¼ cup brandy. Pour into jars.