Tuesday, 15 May 2012


Asparagus is a luxury, and this May it's even more a luxury than usual; the harvest has been poor, because of the incessant rain, so prices have shot up. But there are still ways to get your asparagus addiction fed at economy prices.

First of all, look out for roadside vendors if you live in an asparagus growing area. (I do, I'm in Norfolk.) Often these guys have extremely good prices, as they have low costs (selling from a van) - and about half of them are producers, so there's no middleman to pay.

Secondly, look out for asparagus being sold towards the end of the day. It doesn't keep well, particularly the very slender spears that form most of this year's harvest, so you may get a good deal. The other day I was offered five bunches at £1 each instead of £2.50, just to get them out of the shop.

Third, ignore the seasons and look out for jars of white asparagus in pound shops or Lidl. It keeps forever, or pretty nearly, and if you can get a jar for £1, you'll be able to cook pasta, quiches, or omelettes using it.

Having got your asparagus home, don't waste it by boiling it. There's a much better way to cook it. Roast it instead. Put it on a baking sheet, drizzled with a little olive oil, and bake it for about fifteen minutes at 190c. You don't lose half the goodness in the cooking water, and it won't go too soft. Besides, it will keep, so you can do two lots like this, and then save some for scattering on top of pasta or pizza, or for asparagus-on-toast with a little parmesan bubbled on top.

Another way to cook asparagus is in a gratin. This time you will need to put it in boiling water for just a few minutes, then drain it, put it in an oven dish, pour a little cream over, and add breadcrumbs and cheese on top with just a little butter mixed in. Grill it for another four or five minutes and it's ready.

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