Now that jumbo jets whiz it in from all over the world, fresh asparagus is available all year round. Our own English asparagus is in season from April to June and for the rest of the year it comes to us from the USA, Mexico, Spain, Peru and Thailand. Quality and type vary, and the cost of long-distance sourcing is reflected in its price, which can soar to nearly the £7 mark around Christmas, a strong argument for eating only our domestic asparagus during its season.
Although you can buy special tall, narrow asparagus pans with baskets in them which leave the heads to steam while the thicker part of the stalks are submerged in boiling water, this is an unnecessary refinement since the woody base flesh is never eaten. Depending on the thickness of the stalks, asparagus will take from 3–5 minutes to cook.
It may be served hot with melted butter or a hollandaise sauce, or dressed simply with extra-virgin olive oil and salt. Cold asparagus is usually eaten with a light vinaigrette or mayonnaise. Older or woodier asparagus and asparagus trimmings make excellent soup, which is equally good hot or cold.
Melt the butter in a large heavy-based pan, then add the chopped asparagus stalks, reserving the tips, together with the diced onion, chopped garlic and diced potato. Sweat over a low heat for 5 minutes, being careful not to brown the onion.
The soup is actually nicer without stock confusing its fresh flavour, so pour in
Purée in a blender or food processor and return to the pan. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
In another pan of boiling salted water, blanch the asparagus tips for 3 minutes, refresh in cold water and reserve. The soup can be held at this stage for several hours or overnight in the fridge.
About 10 minutes before serving, gently heat the soup until very hot but not boiling. Add the asparagus tips and simmer them for a minute, then stir in the cream, taste and season again if necessary.
Serve hot in large warmed bowls. If serving the soup cold, stir in the cream at the last minute before bringing to the table. Adjust the seasoning when you do so. The addition of the cream changes the flavour balance and may demand
© 1998 Alastair Little and Richard Whittington estate. All rights reserved.