This recipe is dedicated to my Dad. I cooked it for him today, he praised it in words and by cleaning out the plate with bread, barely leaving the glazing intact.
Asparagus for me is one of the quintessentially seasonal foods, at a time when there are not many new things ready picking. I dreamt this one up a couple of years ago because making a real Hollandaise is not that failsafe/foolproof and homemade mayonnaise is something relatively easy to make and yet I often somehow manage to mess it up. (By the way. in one of restaurants near my home specialising in fresh asparagus, they have a homemade mayonnaise with a bit of asparagus fond in it, simply delicious)
I came up with this very aspargussy recipe as an answer to the above. It’s not terribly quick and easy but, according to my Dad, well worth the effort.
What you need (for 2 people)
- 10 white and 10 green asparagus (all the same kind works too), the former peeled, the latter just peeled at the lower end
- the peelings and the woody bits
- 30 g butter
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 1-2 tsp sugar
- 2 tbsp apple balsamico vinegar (or a not too acerbic white wine vinegar)
- vegetable stock cube or powder
- water to cover the asparagus
- 100 ml fresh (or, if you are feeling naughty, double) cream
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, pressed, or a handful of finely chopped wild garlic
- salt and pepper to taste (possibly a dash of tabasco)
- In a frying pan, melt the butter and sauté the onion, the peels of the asparagus and the finely diced bits you have cut off.
- After about 5 minutes of steady stirring, add the sugar, vinegar and the stock cube/powder; stir.
- Put in the asparagus and add enough water to cover them just about. This is the asparagus fond, which will form the basis of the sauce.
- Allow to simmer until the asparagus have reached the desired softness (Caroline likes them quite soft, I prefer them al dente).
- Take them out and put them aside, keeping them warm.
- Liquidise what is left in the frying pan with the garlic (if using wild garlic, add that at the end) and strain through a sieve. Press the puréed asparagus material against the mesh so as to make sure that the finest particles end up with the liquid; discard the rest (it is very stringy and woody).
- Stirring, reduce the liquid until it barely covers the bottom of the pan.
- Stir in the cream and reduce to the consistency of a not too thick custard (adding wild garlic at this stage).
- Add the juices that will have gathered in the dish with the asparagus, and serve them on warm plates with the sauce decoratively poured over them. Some fresh bread to catch the sauce might be appreciated…
Asparagus are usually sold with a kind of cover over the bottom end. I suspect this is to make it possible to sell inferior or not very fresh stuff: the best way of checking whether asparagus are fresh (and likely to be tender) is to squeeze the bottom end. If it remains entirely dry, they may need to be trimmed fairly far up. (but then that stuff makes for the rich flavour of the fond!)
As pointed out, white asparagus need peeling (all the way to the very tender top); green asparagus benefit from generous peeling at the lower end up to the point where a knife would cut them with little to no pressure. This is actually also a way to test for woodiness and to help deciding what needs to be used for the fond.Lastly, if you are not keen on adding cream – which would make this a vegan dish if there is no dairy stuff in the veggie stock and you’ve substituted the butter with a relatively neutral vegetable oil, e.g. corn or rape seed oil – simply reduce the fond a bit further instead of adding the cream.