About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Weekend Herb Blogging
This time of the year, the asparagus crop is in full swing. I recall about six months ago that Kevin from Seriously Good ran a month long asparagus recipe feature that had me absolutely drooling and somewhat envious as asparagus was out of season here. Well now it's my turn and what better vegetable to feature for weekend herb blogging which this month is being hosted by Nandita of Saffron Trail.

At a time when I still had plenty of hair, some twenty-five years ago, I used to visit an Italian hairdresser who looked after it. She was about the same age as me and did some pretty wild things with her hair, all sorts of different cuts and amazing colours, until the day she finally ran out of hair to mess about with.

My hairdresser came from the family farm at KooWee Rup on the top of Western Port, which is on the edge of what was formerly known as the Great Swamp that stretched out through Gippsland until the late 1800’s, when an Italian engineer, Carlo Catani, was employed to dig drainage channels which transformed the area into prime farmland.

Koo Wee Rup originally gained fame as a potato growing district and a potato festival is held in March every year to celebrate the relationship between the town and this mainstay vegetable, but since the 1930’s Koo Wee Rup’s main claim to fame is that it is the centre of Victoria’s and Australia’s asparagus growing industry, that thrive in the rich soils of this former swampland.

My hairdresser may have been a wild at heart, but she came from good Italian stock and we always talked about food and during the asparagus season she would tell me how to prepare asparagus and all the ways she and her family ate this wonderful shoot.

Asparagus is a member of the lily family and as such is related to onions, garlic, leeks and turnips. The part we eat is the young shoot that is sent up from the crown (bulb) each year in early spring, which, when eventually left alone, will form feathery fronds, properly known as phylloclades, that is, delicate branches without leaves.

At the time we were talking about asparagus, the usual method of preparation was to peel back a bit of the tough outer skin from the base and boil it. To this end there were special asparagus pots, tall and narrow in diameter to accommodate it. What my hairdresser told me was that her family simply grabbed a stem at both ends and simply bent it until it snapped. What you were left with was two halves, one to be discarded and the other perfectly tender its whole length. They then liked to fry the stems in butter or olive oil, which at the time was a revelation as it concentrated the flavour, not leaching it out into cooking water.

Nowadays, all television chefs will show you how to bend and snap asparagus, but think about it for a moment. Why would asparagus snap at exactly the point where tender meets tough? If you pick up the stalk to be discarded and eat a little of it from where the break is, you will discover that it’s not so tough, especially if it breaks about half way. The really tough part of the stem occurs near where the stem changes colour from green to white.

Imagine for a minute that you work on an asparagus farm. All day long you have had a bent back as you harvested the vegetable and the last thing you want to do is muck around peeling it. After all, you do have tons of the stuff, so a little bit wasted is of no concern.

If on the other hand you are buying asparagus, you want to get all the value possible from it and really these days with water issues and such like, who wants to waste anything? You might like to try this. Lay all the stalks on your chopping board and with a sharp knife cut through the stalks into the green part just above the white. Then get a trusty vegetable peeler and peel back the skin for 5 cm from where you cut. What you might find is that suddenly a little bit of asparagus goes a whole lot further.

Our favourite way to cook asparagus is simple and delicious. Take the prepared stems and coat them with olive oil and a little salt. Heat a ridged grill pan till smoking hot, place the asparagus on it and turn when the grill marks appear and darken. Repeat on the other side and serve.
  posted at 8:28 am

At 11:35 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for excellent research ( I trust you here). I love the hair dresser story.
Your logic is flawless as it your asparagus in the grill pan.
Be grateful you don't have to be a full time baker...they start about midnight. I would find it a joy to make croissants with a daughter!!! Always felt I missed not having a daughter. But then I never had to worry about her going off on a date either.

At 12:36 pm, Blogger Kalyn Denny said...

Your asparagus method sounds great to me. I always feel bad about wasting it, even when it's spring and it's relatively cheap here. I have a friend who saves the tough stems and makes a kind of asparagus "stock" then she puts in just a bit of the good end, some cream, and a few spices and makes a wonderful soup.

Extra credit for getting your WHB post in so early too!

At 5:53 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi tanna, I'm pretty sure everything is okay here this time! My daughter is pretty excited about the croissants, I just have to get her started the day before. Know what you mean about the date thing.

Hi kalyn, I've been snapping for such a long time before I thought about the waste. Sometimes you can get them to snap without too much waste, other times an awful lot seems to go in the bin. I'll take that credit too and save it for a rainy day!

At 8:41 pm, Blogger Katie said...

I quit snapping a few years ago - when I saw mon mari eating all the 'end pieces'. We only get white or purple asparagus here and that has to be peeled anyway. Great article - I'm so jealous that your asparagus season is just starting...I won't see it for months!

At 3:01 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi katie, a fellow trimmer, nice to meet you. Don't worry, I was sooo jealous when it was your turn!


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