Green, white, purple or wild – it seems we can't get enough of this wonderful, short-season vegetable
April to June marks the British asparagus season – Tara Crean suggests some simple suppers with one of our best-loved veg treats
Few vegetables inspire as much passion as asparagus. It has a tantalisingly short season, from St George's Day to the summer solstice (23 April - 21 June), and deteriorates rapidly on picking, so eat on the day of purchase. You can grill, roast, steam, boil or barbecue the spears, and then serve simply with a little melted butter, or pimped up with one of the recipes below.
We love asparagus in the UK. In fact, demand has increased by a staggering 540 per cent over the past 10 years, according a report by Kantar for the British Asparagus Association. And no wonder – it promises to boost libido, cure hangovers, improve brain function and protect against a host of diseases. What's not to love?
Macaroni Cheese with Bacon Crumble
Prep: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
- 8 rashers streaky bacon
- 50g breadcrumbs
- 150g Cheddar
- 300g macaroni
- 2 bunches asparagus spears, trimmed and cut in half
- 40g butter
- 40g plain flour
- 400ml milk
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- black pepper
- Preheat the grill and cook the bacon on both sides until very crisp. Chop into small chunks and combine with the breadcrumbs and ¼ of the cheese, then set aside.
- In a large pan of boiling salted water, cook the pasta for 9 minutes, then add the asparagus and continue cooking for another 2 minutes.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan, sprinkle in the flour and, using a wooden spoon, stir to combine. Add the milk a little at a time, beating well after each addition, until you have a smooth sauce. Stir in the mustard, black pepper and the remaining cheese.
- Drain the pasta and asparagus, then pour the cheese sauce over and stir until everything's coated. Tip the macaroni cheese into a large ovenproof dish, sprinkle over the bread and bacon topping and grill until golden.
Or why not try these suggestions…
- Give grilled asparagus a Mexican twist by adding a squeeze of lime, a hit of fresh chilli and a spoonful of sour cream. Toss to coat and then serve with a scattering of grated Parmesan.
- For a light option with an Asian influence, serve asparagus with salmon, squash and rice. Coat the squash and fish in honey, cumin, chilli and ginger, then roast for 25 minutes, adding a bunch of asparagus for the final 10 minutes. Pile into a bowl with some brown rice, then top with chopped coriander and peanuts and spritz of lemon juice.
- Another Asian-style option would be to roast your asparagus in garlic and little oil, and then coat with a dressing made from sesame oil, a little red-wine vinegar and sesame seeds.
- This salad would make a lovely starter or light lunch: use a vegetable peeler to 'ribbon' carrots and asparagus, then combine with thinly sliced radishes. Dress with oil, honey, lemon juice and chia seeds.
- Serve asparagus with flavoured butter. Add your favourite herbs and seasonings to softened butter, form into a log and chill until firm. Top steamed spears with a flavourful disc. Chilli and lime; mint and lemon zest; thyme and honey; parsley and shallot, and black pepper and chive are all delicious combos.
- Why not top pizza with asparagus? Slather flatbreads with crème fraîche, sprinkle over flaked almonds and Parmesan and cook in a medium oven for about 10 minutes, or until golden. Top with steamed asparagus and some more Parmesan shavings.
- For a quick and easy one-pan supper, put some new potatoes and chicken thighs into a roasting dish with a little rosemary, garlic, lemon juice and seasoning, then pop into the oven at 200C for 50 minutes. Add asparagus and cook for a further 8 minutes, then serve everything drizzled with the cooking juices.