When I said I was setting out to make everyone eat the unpopular vegetables, I meant it. In my house I have a conscientious asparagus objector and it really makes me sad when asparagus gets a pretty bad rap, including some unfavourable taste comparisons with urine. In my opinion this is highly unfair and not at all true. Asparagus goes brilliantly with flavours like salmon, scallops, eggs and hollandaise (although not all at once); like any other vegetable, it all depends on how you cook it.
For starters, you should only be eating asparagus in spring; this is when it’s at its best. Look for asparagus with nice firm heads; if the buds are starting to look a little loose, the asparagus will be woody and horrible.
Often, asparagus cooks don’t seem to realise that just because all that stalk is there, it doesn’t mean you have to eat it. I read somewhere that to determine which part of the asparagus is good eating and which part is a stringy mess which should be discarded, you should grasp the stalk firmly in both hands and bend it and where it snaps naturally, that’s the part you want to eat.
Boiling your asparagus for the correct amount of time is also tricky. I’d suggest you aim for anywhere between two and four minutes, depending on the quality and quantity of your asparagus, what you’re using it for and, of course, your personal preference. You can even buy nifty little asparagus cookers that boil the ends while steaming the tops, but that seems a little fussy. I’d only really recommend it if you’re very serious about asparagus.
In addition to loving asparagus, I also love savoury muffins, which I realise aren’t to everyone’s taste. So this week I’ve chosen to combine the two, because I can.
Asparagus, pancetta, caramelised onion and gruyere muffins
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 1 bunch asparagus
- 100 g pancetta, sliced and cut into thin strips
- 100 g gruyere, finely grated
- 1 small handful of dill, finely chopped
- 2 cups self raising flour
- 125 g butter, melted
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 egg
Preheat oven to 180 C
Heat up a little olive oil over a very low heat, then add the onion slices and cook, stirring occasionally, until caramelised. Caramelised means they’re dark and slightly sweet and I’m not going to lie, this takes forever. You really can’t caramelise onions quickly or they will burn. This doesn’t take too much watching except at the end, so continue on with the rest of the recipe and leave the onions to do their thing on one of your back burners.
Prepare your asparagus by cutting off the hard, woody ends, then dice and fry with the pancetta until soft.
Put the self raising flour in a large bowl and make a well in the centre.
In a smaller bowl, combine the butter, buttermilk and egg and mix together. Add the asparagus and pancetta, onion, grated gruyere, and chopped dill. Tip the whole lot into the flour and mix until just combined, but don’t over mix. A few lumps won’t hurt.
Spoon the mixture into a 12-cup muffin tray and bake for 15-20 minutes until cooked through.
For a vego version, simply omit the pancetta; they’re still pretty good muffins. You’ll probably have to adjust for salt.
Image by quisnovus via Creative Commons license