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.