By Teage Ezard
Spring has signalled the start of many of my favourite vegetables such as broad beans and artichokes, but you can’t go past the humble asparagus.
Widely cultivated for its tender, succulent, edible shoots, this highly-respected vegetable with its extreme labour-intensive processes, once harvested, is highly perishable and thus best to always purchase from a quality supplier.
Local green asparagus is usually available from the Koo Wee Rup area of Victoria from early September until the end of March. Look for asparagus with long, straight, thick dark green glossy spears and tightly closed heads.
To prepare green asparagus, break the bottom one third of the spear and discard the wooden base. Use a flat stainless steel vegetable peeler and peel the bottom two thirds of the spear to remove the external dark green bitter skin. Cook quickly in boiling salted water and refresh in cold iced water; texture should be crispy and crunchy.
My three simple favourites are to dress the asparagus with some quality olive oil, lemon juice, salt flakes, black pepper and freshly shaved parmesan cheese or, to chop and add asparagus to beaten eggs to make an omelette with gruyere cheese, truffle oil and chopped chives. Another great dish for spring is to serve with a soft poached egg, roasted chopped hazelnuts, chervil, chives, dill and a light vinaigrette dressing made with nut oils.
White asparagus is another variety available, although more expensive with its limited supply. Unlike green asparagus, white asparagus is harvested under earth away from sunlight and is best left unpeeled with limited cooking. To prepare white asparagus, simply crack the lower end of the stalk and discard the woody end. Rinse and dry, then toss with a little olive oil and quickly grill. Add to a stir-fry or when very young and fresh, they can be eaten raw; sliced as part of a salad.
At the Queen Victoria Market there are several suppliers that offer asparagus. The B stalls located toward the middle of the market supply quality produce. Stalls 21-25 within the H stall also sell good quality asparagus, however if you take it from regular shoppers, the most premium grade asparagus include the Garden Organics suppliers and the Victoria Market Organics suppliers located in the I shed at stalls 56 and 71-76. Both sell chemical free, certified organic vegetables.