Seasonal eating - asparagus

Conventional wisdom tells you that asparagus must be steamed, preferably in an asparagus kettle. Then again conventional wisdom tells you that the asparagus season doesn't start until May, so what does convention know? Asparagus is already appearing in farmers' markets, organic box schemes and shops, presumably another indicator of climate change and our unseasonably warm weather.

The most important thing to check when you are buying asparagus is the base of the stalk - that's where the first signs of age will show (and are often disguised by the elastic band holding it together). Look out for dried out or mouldy bits. Small thin stalks are more popular, but they aren't necessarily better - thick ones have more crunch and work better with stronger flavours like cheese.

Incidentally, if you've ever wondered why your pee smells funny when you've eaten asparagus, then you've inadvertently hit upon one of the great unanswered medical questions of our time. Scientists are divided - one camp claims it's because of a compound called mercaptan (also found in onions, garlic, rotten eggs and, charmingly, the stuff that skunks spray). In some people, this gets broken down by the digestive system, producing that distinctive smell. Other scientists claim that actually, everyone digests it in exactly the same way, but half of us don't have the gene that enables us to smell it. Rather amusingly, a study by the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that of all the people they tested, only 46% of British people could smell it, but 100% of the French. Make of that what you will.

To return from that savoury interlude to the recipes - if you've not been put off - asparagus can be cooked pretty much any way you fancy. Grilled, fried, steamed, oven-baked or even barbequed. As with all really fresh produce, simple is best: just cook it in the method of your choice, and eat with melted butter and salt. The thinner it is, the more inclined you should be to steam: for big fat stems, grilling is better. The outside goes all crisp, caramelised and sweet, while the inside stays fresh and full of flavour.

Only have five minutes?

Asparagus and eggs are the perfect combination, whether you like the eggs soft-boiled, poached, as Hollandaise sauce or in an omelette (see below). The simplest is soft-boiled eggs with asparagus soldiers - there's probably a classier way of describing it but that's what it is. Just boil your eggs, grill or steam your asparagus depending on its thickness, dip in yolk and scoff away. Don't overcook it though, it really is better with some bite.

Twenty minutes to spare?

Herb and feta omelette with warm asparagus, avocado and cherry tomato salsa
From Paradiso Seasons by Dennis Cotter

Serves 2

6 spears asparagus
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 clove garlic, chopped
half a fresh chilli, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil

4-5 eggs
2 tablespoons water
salt and pepper, to season
a handful of fresh herbs (seasonal of course!)
50g feta cheese
butter or olive oil to coat pan
half an avocado

Snaps the ends off the asparagus, chop the spears into pieces about 3cm long and grill or steam for just a minute or two until tender. Put the cherry tomatoes in a small pan over a low heat with the garlic, chilli and olive oil. Cook gently for two minutes until the tomatoes just begin to collapse, then remove from the heat and add in the asparagus. Do this just before cooking the omelette, then, when the omelette is cooked, you can dice the avocado and stir it in.

For the omelette, crack eggs, beat them briefly, add two tablespoons of water and season. Chop the herbs, crumble the feta and have them at the ready. Heat your pan (it should be a heavy flat one) to a high temperature, and brush with the butter or olive oil. Pour in the egg, give it a quick stir, tilt it around and lift the edges to let the raw egg run underneath the cooked. Do this a couple of times, then scatter the herbs and feta over the centre. Flip one third over the middle, then the other, remove from eat and spoon the salsa over it.

All the time in the world?

Braised spring vegetables
Nigel Slater

Serves 4, as salad

young, tender artichokes - 12
garlic - 2 small cloves, peeled and halved
peas - 500g, in their pods
asparagus - 12 fat spears
olive oil
mint leaves -
a large handful lemon juice

First, prepare the artichokes. For this recipe the artichokes de finitely need to be very small and young. Trim the stalks and remove any tough outer leaves (even the smallest artichokes tend to have some), then snip off any spiky tops. Very young ones will not need their inner choke removing. Cut them in half and rub the cut sides with a little lemon juice to stop them discolouring. Put three tablespoons of olive oil into a pan large enough to hold the vegetables, then add the garlic cloves. Let the garlic scent the oil over a low heat, then add the artichokes and enough water to just cover them. Cover with a lid. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the artichokes are tender (test one, and cook a little longer if necessary). While the artichokes are cooking, shell the peas and trim the asparagus. Add the peas and asparagus to the artichokes, with a little salt. Simmer for 10 minutes until tender, then add the mint leaves, stir and leave to cool. Serve with some of their cooking juices, more olive oil, a little lemon juice and maybe some toasted ciabatta.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.