Nicola Galloway: Flash-Cooked Asparagus and One-Jar Aioli
Nicola makes the most of the short and sweet asparagus season.
Some years ago we researched and planned an asparagus patch in the backyard. We sourced 2-year-old crowns from a reputable nursery, and prepared the garden bed with unwashed seaweed we had gathered after a storm. Then followed the instructions for plant spacing and didn’t eat more than a handful of the first year’s spears.
We had an okay asparagus harvest for a few years, about 2-3 bunches a week. To be honest, these rarely made it to the kitchen, most often eaten raw on the garden step. If you grow asparagus, or have a supply that is as good as, you will understand how incredibly sweet and crunchy they are freshly picked.
Then a few years into our envisioned 20-year asparagus patch, we decided to build a glasshouse. The problem being that the only location that had the space and ideal sun angle was on the exact spot where the asparagus grew. This decision was not an easy one after the time and effort to establish the patch. But a purpose built glasshouse would make a big difference to our valley gardens production.
Long story short, we attempted to move the asparagus crowns (not an easy task) along the garden bed, but after a few years of minimal harvests we decided it had to go. One day I do hope to replant my asparagus patch. Once the kids no longer need the lawn space to kick balls and run around, I have a plan in my head to build another row of garden beds in front of the glasshouse, one that is earmarked for asparagus.
With its short season asparagus is something we eat regularly throughout spring. With no more homegrown to harvest I have my reliable sources of fresh bunches that are always cooked on the day of purchase. If they are super fresh some will be thinly sliced and added to a spring salad. But more often than not they get the simple treatment of being flashed-cooked minutes before serving. This is barely worth a recipe but here go…
Cook time: about 6 minutes
1-2 tsp olive oil
250g bunch asparagus
pinch of salt
splash of boiling water (about 2 tbsp)
Heat a frying pan over a moderate heat. Once hot, drizzle in the olive oil, add the asparagus, pinch of salt and a quick splash of boiling water. Immediately cover with a lid and leave to cook for 3-4 minutes until the spears are vibrant green. Remove the lid and continue to cook, shaking the pan momentarily until the excess moisture has evaporated (turn up the heat if needed). Tip the asparagus onto a plate, add a side of aioli and enjoy.
Homemade aioli is a favourite accompaniment for dipping flash-cooked asparagus spears. This recipe is as simple as it gets, no slow pouring in the oil, or fiddly blender to clean. Bung it all in a jar and use a stick blender to facilitate the magical emulsion of liquid and fat. I like to use a flavourful extra virgin olive oil, if you find the taste is too strong use a light olive oil instead.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Makes about 250ml
1 whole egg or 2 egg yolks
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp Dijon mustard
generous pinch each of salt and sugar
180ml (⅔ cup) olive oil (use light olive oil if preferred)
Place the egg yolks or whole egg into a 500ml wide-mouth jar – wide enough to fit a stick (immersion) blender. Side note: using egg yolks will result in a richer taste and texture, while the whole egg works just fine if you don’t want the leftover egg whites.
Add the lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, mustard, salt and sugar. Pour the olive oil on top. Insert the stick blender all the way to the base of the jar. Start blending until the mixture begins to emulsify then slowly lift the blender up the jar to incorporate the oil. After about 30 seconds you will have thick and creamy aioli. Check the taste, adding extra salt or lemon juice if needed. Remove the stick blender, secure the lid and store in the fridge. Use within 2 weeks.