With each spring, alongside daffodils, lambing and chocolate eggs comes the certainty that ‘asparagus’ will be one of the most searched for ingredients on bbcgoodfood.com.
Imported asparagus is available all year round – in fact, such is our appetite for the green spears we rely on South American countries to supply us from afar. However, homegrown British asparagus is available in a short window from May to July. In terms of food miles and freshness, it’s by far the better option, and the exclusivity of the product gets home chefs in an excited flurry about serving options.
We also love this distinct, fine vegetable, and while you can’t go wrong with steamed spears with a touch of hollandaise sauce, it can stretch a lot further.
Asparagus: the basics
While we know British asparagus for its milky green colour, white asparagus is now being grown on home soil. If you're really lucky, you might be able to pick up imported asparagus in an appealing deep purple shade. Whatever the hue, the labour intensity required for its cultivation gives it a hefty price tag – expect to pay around £2 a bunch. It’s possible to buy more affordable, jarred asparagus, but this is ready-cooked and lacks the distinct bite of fresh spears.
‘Sprue’ asparagus is very young and slender in appearance. It’s sometimes aptly marketed as ‘fine’ asparagus and usually the whole stalk is edible. With larger asparagus, the tough woody ends should be removed. Gently bend each spear and it will naturally snap, leaving a perfect tip for cooking.
Make the most of the intensely savoury flavour of asparagus by cooking it to perfection. Boil your spears for 3-5 minutes, or to lock in more of the flavour steam them for 4-5 minutes, depending on thickness and length. Asparagus can also be roasted for around 15 minutes, or grilled or barbecued for 5 minutes.
What works with asparagus: Prosciutto, ham, bacon, lemon, parmesan, mint, toasted almonds.
10 new ways with asparagus
1. Asparagus cream pasta
After paying above the odds for a bunch of asparagus, throwing up to half of each spear away is a little hard to swallow. While tough to chew, they are packed with flavour, so use them to infuse a cream sauce to serve with pasta. Once cooked, either discard the ends or blitz in a blender for a thick tasty cream like no other.
2. Shaved asparagus salad
Use a vegetable peeler to strip ribbons from stalks of just-blanched asparagus, creating a vegetarian 'carpaccio' of almost raw, paper-thin slices. This recipe celebrates the natural affinity of asparagus and salty prosciutto ham, but the shavings would also work with creamy mozzarella or burrata cheese, peppery olive oil and a grating of lemon zest.
3. Asparagus & courgette fritters
Anything battered gets a thumbs up from us, and vegetable tempura has the added bonus of giving a vague nod to nutrition. You won't require a huge deep pan of bubbling oil for this recipe, instead just use a couple of centimetres of oil in a regular frying pan, then add bhaji-sized spoonfuls of spicy, batter-coated asparagus and courgette. Serve with a contrasting fresh tomato dip.
4. Soft-boiled duck egg with bacon & asparagus soldiers
As they’re suitably soldier-like, asparagus is perfect for dunking. Wrap in streaky bacon and serve with boiled duck eggs, or simply steam and serve with a watercress or lemon mayonnaise as a nifty canapé.
5. Sesame grilled asparagus rafts
Turning endless spears of asparagus on a grill or barbecue can be a tedious chore, so take out the hard work by skewering them horizontally into ‘rafts’ of five. This recipe goes one better and marinates the spears in an Asian-style sesame and soy dressing. If the weather isn’t playing ball, the method can also be used with a sizzling griddle pan.
6. Asparagus, sundried tomato & olive loaf
If you like flexing your kneading skills and experimenting with Mediterranean flavours this recipe is for you. This all-in-one vegetarian loaf is packed with olives, cheese, asparagus and tomatoes. Serve as a starter with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping, or with a neutral soup to showcase the bread’s wonder.
7. Tofu & asparagus pad Thai
Asparagus is often associated with delicate French cooking or traditional British flavour combinations, but being a robust ingredient it can handle intense flavours too. Try it in a sweet and salty pad Thai, or simply coated in tandoori spice, roasted and served with cooling raita.
8. Asparagus coconut crêpes with sweet chilli sauce
Take the blueprint of a traditional pancake and veer leftfield with this Asian-inspired recipe. The coconut milk crêpes are filled with asparagus and chunky, chopped hard-boiled egg, and they’re served with a chilli, lime and peanut dip, plus a garnish of herbs. A spectrum of originality if ever we saw one.
9. Microwave risotto primavera
Traditional risotto ‘primavera’ (which translates as 'spring' in Italian and Spanish) contains seasonal vegetables like peas, asparagus and broad beans, but this recipe saves you the labourious stirring process as the whole dish is cooked in the microwave. Italian purists look away now…
10. Mini prosciutto & asparagus frittatas
Whether poached, boiled, scrambled or fried, eggs have a natural affinity with asparagus. We like to immerse our spears in a bath of whisked egg, which is then poured into prosciutto nests, topped with Parmesan cheese and baked into a mini version of Italian-style frittata.
Get more ideas for cooking asparagus...
Are you a fan of majestic asparagus? How do you like to serve it? If you need more inspiration, visit our asparagus recipe collection.