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The Review - FOOD AND DRINK - Cooking with CLARE
Published: 20th August 2008
A few tips on cooking tasty asparagus

Asparagus is supposed to be an aphrodisiac – and it’s good for the heart too, says Clare Latimer

IF you want to buy anything from herbs to electricity then get down to Regent’s Park on June 4 for the Green Festival, which is an annual event on the first Sunday of June each year.
The Fair aims to inspire Londoners to help make their capital a world-class green city. Amongst all the hustle and bustle you will find Paul from Riverford who delivers fruit and veg boxes to your door in Camden, whom I wrote about last week so you could have a chat and see exactly what he would bring. One thing for sure that he will have at this time of year is perfect English freshly-picked asparagus that is popping up all over the country at the moment.
Like summer strawberries and autumn Orange Pippins, the appearance of British asparagus in late April is a celebrated moment in the culinary calendar.
As welcome as the promise of warmer weather, the first sweet and tender spears mark the beginning of a brief but bountiful season in which to indulge in one of the nation’s most celebrated crops. British asparagus is only in season for roughly eight weeks in May and June – so buy it while you can.
Asparagus not only tastes good, but it does you good too. It contains no fat, cholesterol or sodium and is rich in vitamin C, folic acid, iron and potassium.
Alongside its aphrodisiac qualities, asparagus is also known as a natural remedy to help relieve indigestion and has also been recommended as a mild sedative. If you plan to keep asparagus for a day or two, keep it fresh by placing it in a jug or vase with the stems in water, then store in the fridge.
Asparagus spears differ in size and weight because they are hand grown and individually cut. For that reason, cooking times vary (usually three to six minutes).
Whichever cooking method you choose, your asparagus is cooked when the tips are tender (test with the point of a knife or a skewer).
I feel that asparagus should be served just as it is with butter or even dipped into a soft boiled egg (that is suppose to be the aphrodisiac way!) so here are a few ways but be careful not to overcook it. It should still be crunchy.

• To boil: Submerge the spears in a large pan of boiling water, cover and cook for three to six minutes.
• To steam: Stand the asparagus in three inches of boiling water, cover and cook for three to six minutes.
• To roast: pre-heat the oven (220C, gas mark 7), place the asparagus on baking sheet, drizzle over a little olive oil. Roast for approximately 10 minutes, turning a few times depending on the thickness of the spears. Stems should be soft, not limp; tips should be slightly crunchy.
• To barbecue: Set the grill on a medium height above the coals – you don’t want the asparagus to cook too quickly and become black. Place the spears directly on the grill and cook until lightly coloured. If desired, toss in light vinaigrette while still warm.
• To sauté: Heat a non-stick frying pan and add a knob of butter. When it starts to foam, add the asparagus and toss in the butter for three to six minutes.
• To Use in a Salad: Select the youngest, spears available, chop roughly and use in your favourite salad. If desired, blanch very briefly in boiling water and refresh before use as described above. A delicious combination is asparagus, fresh peas, feta cheese and lemon dressing.

Asparagus with Parma ham
Serves 4
450g British asparagus;
Eight thin slices of Parma ham;
Four handfuls of mixed salad;
110g natural of yoghurt/ crème fraiche mix;
One tablespoon of lemon juice;
A handful of chopped herbs (parsley, chervil, basil).

Clean the asparagus and trim any white ends or peel with a vegetable peeler.
Blanch the asparagus in boiling water for two minutes or until tender. Remove with a slotted spoon and plunge into cold water for a few minutes until cool.
Divide the asparagus into four bundles and wrap two slices of Parma ham around each.
Divide the salad leaves between four plates and place an asparagus bundle on each.
Mix the yoghurt, lemon juice and herbs together to make the dressing.
Drizzle over the salad and serve.

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