Asparagus is in season at the moment and it is a sure sign that spring has arrived in Australia. After months of seeing sad, overpriced imported asparagus on the shelves in the supermarket, those first couple of locally grown bunches are always cause for celebration.
We’re lucky enough to have two large beds of asparagus on the go at our community garden at the moment, so we’ve been enjoying fresh spears pretty much straight out of the ground. There is nothing like it, and it makes waiting all those months just that little bit sweeter.
Nutritionally, asparagus is a powerhouse of B vitamins, calcium, magnesium and zinc. A serve of asparagus will provide just over a quarter of your daily vitamin C requirements, making it a great immune booster.
Asparagus comes in a few different colours, green being the most common. There is also a purple strain, which provides a great dose of antioxidants, and the much sought after white spears which are actually grown in the dark to prevent them from colouring.
How to grow
To grow asparagus you’re going to need a decent chunk of space that you are happy to hand over to the plant for the foreseeable future as they are a perennial plant that comes back year after year. To get the most benefit from your patch, plant a few as spears seem to grow two or three at a time, so having a couple of extra plants means you can pick a bunch at a time, come back in a few days and pick some more.
Often purchased as crowns, asparagus needs a couple of years to really get going. You’ll want to plant in late winter, early spring but you’ll probably have to wait until next season before you start to see results. As you can see from the photos below, the plant is not much to look at during the warmer months, but seeing those first few shoots make their way up through the mulch is an exciting moment. Once the season draws to a close, the spears will become woodier and eventually make way for a forest of green ferny growth. This growth often gets up to two metres high, so when planting be sure to account for any shade it will throw in the heat of summer.
Ways to use
I love the fresh flavour of asparagus and find it needs nothing more than a quick shock in some boiling water. The smaller, more fragile spears sometimes don’t even need that. We’ve been enjoying it alongside some runny poached eggs and grainy toast in the mornings, blanched in some boiling water with a squeeze of lemon and a few grinds of fresh black pepper as a side to lean chicken or fish, and it is also fantastic roasted, grilled and even wrapped in a little bacon and quickly fried.
The salad below is a celebration of spring, coupled with fresh baby peas (which are also at their best at the moment), mint and dill. I like to use the Greek style of feta in salads like this as it is a bit firmer and crumblier than the creamier Danish version. I’ve also added a little colour to the plate with a few petals from some of the edible flowers I’ve got on the go at the moment but they are really only decorative so don’t worry if you don’t have any – it will still be lovely. Finish it all off with a tart dressing of balsamic, lemon juice and oil and serve either as is or alongside some grilled chicken, or even top with a runny poached egg for a seriously impressive light meal.
- 1 bunch Asparagus, woody ends trimmed and broken into bite-sized pieces
- 1 cup fresh peas (or frozen if preferred), podded
- ½ cup each of fresh dill and fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
- Edible flowers such as Calendula, Nasturtium and Sage (optional)
- 50g Greek feta
- 1 tspn balsamic
- 1 tbspn extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tspn lemon juice
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of pepper
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil.
- Blanch asparagus and peas for about 2 minutes – until bright green.
- Remove immediately and run under cool water to stop the cooking.
- In a medium-sized bowl combine cooked vegetables with leaves, flowers and feta.
- In a small jar or bowl combine the balsamic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
- Pour over the salad just before serving and gently toss through.