English asparagus is the finest in the world and the first sweet, green spears of May are a seasonal joy, to be cooked simply and eaten with the minimum of saucing. All they need is
Select medium-sized, even bunches of asparagus with closed tips and a good green colour. After you have eaten your first few bunches plain boiled and buttered, you might like to try this Italian treatment. Only
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.
Undo the bunches of asparagus and lay them out on a chopping board, with their tips touching the same imaginary straight line. Trim off the woody bases to give an equal length of about
Drop the asparagus into the pan of boiling water, bring it back to the boil and cook for 2–4 minutes, tasting after 2 minutes. Precisely how long you give them depends on how thick the spears are and how al dente you like them.
Drain and serve immediately or refresh in cold water. You can then keep them refrigerated for up to 24 hours. If so, plunge into boiling water for 30 seconds to reheat before serving.
Shave wafer-thin slices of the Parmesan with a potato peeler.
Divide the hot asparagus between 4 warmed plates, laying them in a single neat layer. Dress with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, then lay the shaved Parmesan on top. Finish with some black pepper and serve with a basket of sliced baguette.
© 1998 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.