recipe

Credit: Photographed remotely by Earl Carter

Roasted green asparagus and pickled white asparagus with tarama

Asparagus is a vegetable indelibly linked to gourmet French cuisine. It was the fancy dish in a sauce of I don’t know what. A celebratory vegetable course that communicated the chef’s pedigree.

My first picking of asparagus highlighted how little I knew previously about the plant, which is effectively a fern. Once mature it sprouts small and tender heads that grow rapidly as the soil warms. These grass-like shoots then grow woody, and quickly transform into either that fern-like canopy or little inedible shrub branches. Once the weather cools enough, the energy of the plant returns subterranean to prepare for another run next year.

Asparagus plants take several years to mature into production and, when they do produce, it is for between only six to 10 weeks. There’s a narrow window in which to capture these little shoots at their peak – blink and you will miss it. But it’s a true indication of the turn of spring.

We now have several varieties of asparagus. The most notable is the green variety we are most familiar with. The white variety is sweeter and generally thicker. Purple asparagus can be a huge, meaty vegetable.

I tend to treat each variety differently, with the various textures and flavours lending themselves to multiple preparations. Pickling white asparagus rather than green, for instance, results in the spear retaining its “colour” and not becoming that rather unappetising shade of beige we associate with the bottled asparagus found on supermarket shelves. This white pickled asparagus works really well as an appetiser with dips or salty fish. Or salty fish dips, as is the case with this recipe.

Roasted green asparagus works well as a meal. As do most things when you roast them in butter with capers. For this, use spears that are thick and meaty. When they are small and very tender, less is more, so either enjoy them raw or quickly flashed through a smoking hot wok.

Roasted green asparagus and pickled white asparagus with tarama

Roasted green asparagus

1 bunch green asparagus

20ml olive oil

2 tbsp capers in salt

200g butter

1 bunch large-leaf English spinach

lemon juice

Prepare the spears by taking the tip and the base into each hand and applying the same pressure to both ends. The asparagus will break at the point where it isn’t woody. Then trim the ends neatly with a knife.

Bring a cast-iron pan to medium heat and add the olive oil and asparagus spears. Shake continuously to keep the asparagus moving. Cook for a couple of minutes before adding the capers and then the butter soon after.

When the butter begins to foam, add the spinach leaves, moving them around so they cover the asparagus. Once the leaves have wilted slightly, remove the pan from the heat.

Serve directly onto a plate and eat with some freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Pickled white asparagus with tarama

1 bunch white asparagus

300ml vinegar

100g sugar

1 tsp white peppercorns

6 bay leaves

1 tbsp salt

200g white bread

1 shallot, peeled

1 clove garlic, peeled

50g salted cod roe

120ml grapeseed oil

juice and zest of 1 lemon

salt and white pepper

6 lemons whole (for a blackened lemon powder)

Prepare the asparagus as per above.

Bring the vinegar, sugar and 200 millilitres of water to the boil in a stainless-steel pot and add the peppercorns and bay leaves. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Salt the asparagus in a bowl or plate. Place the asparagus into a sterilised storage jar and, once the pickling liquid has cooled, fill the jar with the liquid. Wait at least 12 hours before using.

For the tarama, soak the bread in 120 millilitres of water until the liquid has been fully absorbed. Place the bread, shallot, garlic and cod roe into an upright blender. Add a quarter of the oil and blend until it forms a paste. Add the lemon juice and zest with some salt and pepper, then drizzle in the rest of the oil. It should form the same consistency as a firm mayonnaise. Adjust for salt and pepper and let the mixture stand in the fridge.

For the lemon powder, chargrill the lemons until completely black. Place these lemons whole into a dehydrator for about 48 hours or until they’ve dried out. Alternatively, they can go into the oven on the lowest temperature (or pilot light) for 12 hours or until crispy dry. Blend in a spice grinder and then pass the grounds through a fine sieve.

Place a large spoonful of the tarama onto a plate, then top with the white asparagus tips. Sprinkle the blackened lemon dust over the top to finish.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 21, 2020 as "Roasted green asparagus and pickled white asparagus with tarama".

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David Moyle is a chef. He is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.