Asparagus is more than just another green vegetable. Once called the ‘Food of Kings’, it's packed with nutrients such as fibre, potassium, iron, calcium and vitamins A and C. It is a good idea to learn how to recognise the different varieties of asparagus to get the most flavour and benefit out of all of them depending on what dish you’re planning. Asparagus can be used as an accompaniment to a main dish, for dipping into multiple sauces or as an ingredient in soup. But it is also great as part of a larger meal when cooked, for example, into risotto, pasta or a frittata. The first English asparagus of the season is a long awaited treat!
British and Americans prefer their asparagus to be green, while the French favour the purple variety and in Spain and the Netherlands it is usually the white. White asparagus tends to have a woodier body but is just as tasty.
Asparagus is at its best when super fresh and you can tell this by checking its weight and firmness. Fresher asparagus is heavier and should snap when you break the stem. If it looks like it is wilting or feels light, it won’t be as full of flavour.
Younger asparagus are called ‘sprue’ and don’t require any preparation besides being washed. Larger asparagus require a little more work. Firstly, cut off the woody end with a small sharp knife and then bend the asparagus by placing your fingers at either end. It should break and snap in half at the centre. Some people simply season and cook their asparagus like this, but you may also want to peel your asparagus before cooking it.
Peeling thicker asparagus is an important part of preparation as it can speed up the cooking process. It’s also good for removing any sand or residue on the stalk, as well as any stringiness left on the outer layer. Using a regular vegetable peeler, peel along the sides of the stalk, avoiding the tip. For those who do this regularly, you can invest in a specially-made asparagus peeler that is quite self-explanatory to use. With white asparagus, peeling is compulsory and needs a bit more strength to do it, as it is tougher than the other varieties. Just remember to still cut off the hard end of the asparagus before cooking it.
When it comes to cooking asparagus, it couldn’t be easier and there are many ways to serve them. You can steam, boil, roast, grill and even sauté asparagus. Steaming, grilling and boiling asparagus for 4-5 minutes should be adequate as long as you have trimmed and prepared them properly. To sauté asparagus, just heat them in a pan with a little oil or Stork Margarine, some sage and a sprinkling of herbs. Leave to sauté for 5 minutes, then remove the sage and serve. Cooked asparagus is delicious served with the classic Hollandaise sauce, but equally lovely with melted butter and a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of Robertsons Ground Black Pepper. Roasting asparagus can take up to 15 minutes. Preheat your oven to 230°C for 10 minutes and lay the asparagus out on a foil-lined baking tray. The asparagus should be lined up next to one another to ensure even cooking. Sprinkle with a little Robertsons Ground Black pepper, parsley and chopped garlic cloves and brush with 15-30ml of olive oil before you put them in the oven. Keep an eye on them to ensure they don’t burn or wither. Once they are roasted, you can season them with some balsamic vinaigrette and lemon or get adventurous and wrap them with Prosciutto ham and top with grated Parmesan or grated Cheddar.
Some chefs like to deep fry their asparagus in batter. Try a mix of whisked egg whites, Robertsons Ground Black Pepper, flour, beer, corn flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Simply dip the asparagus individually into the batter mix and then drop them into 5 cm of piping hot vegetable oil for 1-2 minutes or until they are a golden brown colour. There are several ways to store asparagus and one is to keep them in a glass or jug filled with cold water in the fridge.
The other option is to wrap them in kitchen paper and keep them in a small plastic bag (also in the fridge). For an idea of how to incorporate asparagus into a whole meal, take a look at some of these great recipes from our chef. For example, our Asparagus and Parmesan Cheese Tart recipe is great if you’re looking to use this delicious vegetable in a light dish. Knorr Roasted Vegetable Veggie Bake gives the asparagus a delicious flavour, whilst milk and eggs create a smooth, soft texture. Top with grated Parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of paprika for a light, crispy surface. This dish is quick to prepare and is a great change from regular methods of cooking asparagus.
If you feel like something heartier, try our recipe for Curry and Pesto Chicken with Asparagus and Feta. This dish is a delicious fusion of flavours. Whilst creamy and spicy from the curry powder, sour cream and feta cheese, it has a refreshing lightness from the coriander, pesto and asparagus. Don’t forget to add a sachet of Knorr Classic White Sauce to bring all these delicious flavours together. Simply put the mixture of ingredients in a casserole dish, sprinkle with feta cheese and mixed seeds, bake for 10-20minutes, and you have a creamy-yet-crunchy dinnertime treat.