At last, spring is finally here, bringing with it an abundance of the lovely fresh local produce we yearn for during rest of the year when sadly we are reliant upon imports, which can never be as good.
Although my personal dislike of all things green is well recorded, the ethical me feels that it would be better for my health, and the planet, if I was able to make the shift towards a diet based on less meat and dairy consumption. Let’s face it, veganism and sustainability are at the top of everyone’s agenda now.
I try to like vegetables, I really do, but fail miserably. Thankfully, one of the few exceptions is asparagus, which at this time of year takes centre stage. In an effort to eat food that is seasonal, and preferably locally grown, I get really excited by the start of the British asparagus season, which is in full flow now, until the end of June.
For me, asparagus is the very essence of spring. I am not keen on white or purple asparagus, or those fat green spears loved by so many; I much prefer the thin, spindly asparagus known as sprue.
My favourite method of cooking these delicate spears is to lightly steam them and serve them either with melted butter or a rich, buttery, hollandaise sauce. I am also inclined to dip them into the yolk of a soft-boiled egg; a slimming alternative to the traditional ‘soldiers’. Fresh from the field, there is nothing to beat asparagus, especially as it is considered an aphrodisiac and is said to contain enzymes that help to fight hangovers to boot. What’s not to love?
But, what to drink with it? In general, it is advisable to avoid heavy, oaked red wines as the tannins really clash with the grassiness of asparagus, whilst dry rosé will do nothing to enhance your experience either. White wines with a pronounced aromatic or floral flavour, along with wines on the medium to sweet side, will fare no better,
Asparagus, as delicious as it is, has a notorious reputation of being ‘challenging’, difficult to pair with wine, but I think that this is overstated. In general I find that the best match is an unoaked white wine, such as a crisp clean sauvignon blanc; one of the key flavour characteristics of this wine, when well-made, is ‘cat’s pee’, much like the result of having eaten a surfeit of asparagus and the smell of your urine as a result!
Another suitable wine would be a chenin blanc, preferably from the Loire.
A lot of course does depend on how asparagus is prepared, so here are some suggestions to enhance this delicious short-lived season, no matter how you choose to excite those taste buds.
Hollandaise – by far my favourite accompaniment to asparagus, although this would not be my personal preference, with the sauce taking such a prominent role here, go for a mature Chardonnay with some oak. If it were me, I would plump for Champagne every time.
Vinaigrette – here you will want flavours that will not compete with the asparagus, so try a dry, unoaked Italian white such as Verdicchio or Orvieto.
Melted butter – the richness of this will stand up nicely to a medium-bodied Chablis.
Goat’s cheese – the natural match has to one of the lovely minerally Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire, such as Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé, or one of the stunning English dry white wines now being produced from grape varieties such as Bacchus.
Crab or seafood – you cannot go wrong with a dry Alsace Riesling.
Risotto – with such a rich and creamy dish, a crisp, dry Italian white such as Pinot Grigio is the ideal option, but do try to avoid the bland cheap and cheerful supermarket options.
Chargrilled – if you yearn for red, then make it a light one, such Bourgeuil or Saumur-Champigny from the Loire, or a light, inexpensive unoaked Pinot Noir
To really indulge in your asparagus fix, the Vale of Evesham, not too far from here, is one of several historic centres of cultivation and every year on May Bank Holiday Sunday this beautiful part of England holds an Asparagus Festival and auction at the Fleece at Bretforton. Well worth a visit.
And finally, just in case I have so far failed to influence you, spare a thought for these words from essayist Charles Lamb – “Asparagus inspires gentle thoughts.”