recipe

Credit: EARL CARTER

Poached eggs with asparagus and morels on toast

They are the harbingers of spring: asparagus and morels. Vastly different ingredients, but they foretell the joyous seasons of plenty ahead. Winter often seems eternal by mid-August: the cold is biting, the wet depressing and it is hard to feel positive about anything. And it’s then, if you look and listen very carefully, you suddenly see and hear the change that is creeping inexorably closer.

The joy of spring is coming. First it’s the birds – as the days become longer you can hear a shift in the birdsong at dawn. Then it’s the grass – it starts to seem greener each day. And then, in the dark rows of winter dirt, if you prod and poke about your asparagus crowns, you see the fragile whiteness of the new year’s crop starting to emerge from its dirty tangle of roots.

A little further north from me, my friends who live where the volcanic soils have given way to sand start to walk their local forests, not with their heads up admiring the canopies, but with their heads down, eyes peeled for the elusive little morel. The locations are highly guarded secrets, the mushrooms themselves camouflaged amid the stones and tree litter. But once found, what a prize they are.

I am often amazed at how quickly our world changes around us. I, for one, am suspicious of all the technological advances that surround me that I don’t understand. But the world of produce and supply and demand also changes. On one hand, there are unspeakable advances in farming that make me recoil in horror, but on the other, there is a soft change in providing carefully farmed, foraged and found ingredients that 20 years ago were unavailable to almost everyone. Across the land is a vast network of farmers’ markets and farm gates that allows us to purchase incredibly fresh and carefully farmed food.

Asparagus, from my own farming experience, seems to have a sublime deliciousness. The closer to picking, the more delicious. Those sad bunches that appear on supermarket shelves, which have been picked and packed and travelled through a vast network of cool storage, are nothing like the flavour of the loose crop hand-cut by a farmer the day before market. It also seems that some of my kitchen fraternity have hung up their aprons and taken up baskets and little knives to bring to the general public the wonders of foraged foods. Cooks love special ingredients, and it seems that if they can’t procure them from others, the joy of sourcing them themselves in the wild outdoors can lure them from their kitchens into a whole new world.

Ostensibly, I would think of this recipe as a breakfast dish. Having said that, though, some days when the week has been long and harsh and comfort is needed, there is nothing better than poached eggs for dinner. Asparagus, morels, eggs, chervil. Spring is truly here – let us all rejoice in the new beginnings.

 

Poached eggs with asparagus and morels on toast

Serves 4

– 20g unsalted butter

– 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

– 200g asparagus, trimmed

– 60g small morel mushrooms (rinsed and halved or quartered if large)

– 60ml chicken or vegetable stock

– 2 tbsp heavy cream

– 1 tsp fresh lemon juice

– salt and pepper

– 4 very fresh large eggs

– 4 slices (½-inch thick) rustic bread, lightly toasted

– 2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

– 2 tsp chopped fresh chervil

 

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the butter and oil and heat until the butter has melted. Add the asparagus and cook, rolling it around in the butter for about a minute. Add the mushrooms and toss to combine.

Add the stock and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook for about another three minutes, until the asparagus is tender and bright green.

Add the cream and cook until reduced and slightly thickened (about another minute).

Stir in the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.

Bring a large shallow saucepan of water to a simmer. Working with one egg at time, break each into a cup and slide the egg into the water. Cook the eggs until the whites are set (two to three minutes). Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggs to a plate lined with paper towel to drain.

Divide the asparagus mixture evenly over the toast slices and drizzle with sauce. Top each with a poached egg. Season with salt and pepper. Scatter the herbs over the top. Serve immediately.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 7, 2017 as "A morel with history". Subscribe here.

Annie Smithers
is the owner and chef of du Fermier in Trentham, Victoria.

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