Spears of emerald-green and mauve perennial asparagus are now being stacked on grocers’ shelves, full of seasonal promise. Freshness is king when it comes to asparagus, but even a tired bunch can be rendered delicious if treated right. Rather than lightly blanch older stems, roast or grill them at a high temperature, which will cook them very quickly while mildly charring the exterior.
To store asparagus, treat it like a bunch of flowers. Trim only the very ends, stand in a jar of water and keep in the door of the fridge. To eat, slice the tougher end across the grain into thin rounds, but only up to the point where the stem becomes tender. Cook these rounds alongside the rest of the spears, or use in sauces and soups, such as the one below.
Towards the end of the season, before asparagus opens up and “ferns”, the base will turn woody and need more of its fibrous exterior removed: cut off the base and peel the exterior down to the soft core.
Chilled almond and asparagus soup
Fresh or not, save up your asparagus ends to make this refreshing, chilled summer soup. Just like the rest of the spear, the butt is full of flavour. The silky texture and sweet taste of the almonds make a great carrier for the subtle, fresh flavour of asparagus. This soup should be made in advance, so it’s a great get-ahead or dinner party recipe that will keep in the fridge for up to five days.
100g asparagus ends (or leftover cooked asparagus)
80g almonds (Fairtrade, for preference), soaked for at least six hours, or overnight
1 small clove garlic, peeled
50ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
1 tbsp sherry or red-wine vinegar
25g stale bread (preferably wholemeal sourdough for nutrition and flavour)
Chop the asparagus ends into fine rounds and put in a blender with 150ml water, the almonds, garlic, oil and vinegar. Soak the stale bread in a bowl of water for 20-30 seconds, until soft, then squeeze out any excess liquid, add to the blender and blitz everything on medium-high speed to a very smooth paste.
Season to taste, then add more vinegar and water as necessary, until the mix is the consistency of double cream and has a nice balance of acidity. Chill for several hours, then ladle into bowls and serve topped with sliced almonds, asparagus rounds and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.