October means it’s finally truly spring and we can get really excited about one of our favourite vegetables –asparagus!
Asparagus arriving instore is a sign that summer is on its way, but it’s also a reminder that there’s only a limited time to gorge ourselves on this delicious vegetable while we can.
Available from September, but only in small quantities, until they fully show their tender wee heads from October until December, now is the time to enjoy that truly unique taste.
Asparagus grows wild in Europe, Turkey, the Middle East and parts of Asia, so it is no wonder it graces many cuisines. We like to be different here in New Zealand, though, and love the fine and tender asparagus much more than the fatter versions we see on offer in Europe … and there’s no fancy white asparagus for us! We like it to see fresh air and sunshine, thank you, not kept underground as the white asparagus is.
Once thought of as such a speciality, it was the sign of a true chef working in upmarket restaurants in Europe if you had an asparagus peeler in your kitchen kit to peel those tough, thick bottoms. Often at the start of the season those thicker stems can be a bit firm, so a quick snap and you’re ready to go with the tender tips; then, as the season progresses, the thickness can vary a great deal too. Hydration is all-important to asparagus, as it keeps those long stems at their best.
We like to store our asparagus sitting upright in water as it stops not only those ends drying out but also the tender tips.
The south of the North Island, Hawke’s Bay and Canterbury are the big growing areas for asparagus in NZ, with producers favouring the colder climates as it slows the growth rate and makes for sweeter spears. Hot weather is a bit of an enemy as it dries out the tips and causes rapid growth so, unfortunately, to get a good asparagus season, we need cold weather.
It takes two to three years for the plants to fully mature; the complex crown that is formed over those years also forms feathery looking ferns as well as very slender baby asparagus, which a good gardener has to resist the temptation of picking until the plant is mature enough to withstand the harvest.
Purple asparagus is a crop that we see more and more each year and is a deliciously sweet variety that is great raw.
Our fav ways to work with asparagus are all about keeping it simple: steamed lightly, grilled lightly … anything lightly, really, so you don’t lose that wonderful texture and bright green taste.