Known as the harbinger of spring, asparagus imported from warmer climes offers an unseasonable taste of good things to come.
– PETER MEIER goes lean and green with an early favourite.
The word asparagus derives from the ancient Greek aspharagos, meaning “as long as one’s throat”, as they and the early Romans ate it in one fell swoop without cutting the slender stems. It is a custom which is still fashionable in some European countries, even in the finest restaurants where a finger bowl accompanies the dish as it is etiquette to pick the spears up with one’s fingers.
Asparagus is known as the harbinger of spring. Its season used to be rather short and started at the end of winter. Nowadays, thanks to Australia’s diverse climate and sophisticated growing methods, you can get asparagus in varying degrees of excellence for most of the year. The first of the new-season asparagus usually arrives around late June and comes from Queensland and the Northern Territory.
There are many ways to enjoy it: freshly boiled with a citrus flavoured hollandaise; pan-fried in olive oil and garlic and served with shaved parmesan; topped with a bechamel sauce, cheese and breadcrumbs and finished under a grill; cold with a sauce vinaigrette; or as is in this recipe, with baked honeyed ham.
A little tip: If you don’t use asparagus straight away, place stems in water and keep in a cool pace. This will keep it fresh for days and stop it wrinkling.
New season asparagus with baked honeyed ham
- 2 bunches of asparagus (approx. 20 spears)
- 300g shaved double smoked ham
- 3 tblsp mild-flavoured honey
- 3 tblsp lemon juice
- 1 tblsp shopped ginger
- 3 tblsp salted butter
- 50ml sweet sherry
- Freshly ground pepper
- Red capsicum for garnish
Cut end of stems with a sharp knife or break them off, which is easy if the asparagus is absolutely fresh. Peel lower part of stems, which is often woody, with a sharp potato peeler. At this point you may want to pre-cook asparagus in briskly boiling water for 3 – 4 minutes; strain and plunge into iced water. This will bring out the most beautiful deep green colour, a firm texture and also refresh the flavour. Strained and kept in the fridge, it will last 4 – 5 hours. All you need to do is re-heat it in lightly buttered boiling water for less than 30 seconds at the last moment.
To make sauce, combine ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil.
Arrange ham in four mounds on a greased baking tray; spoon a little sauce over ham and bake in a very hot oven, or even better, under the grill until the ham is a glistening golden brown (3-5 minutes).
To serve, re-heat asparagus quickly as described above. Place on heated plates, top with baked ham and spoon sauce over top. Garnish with julienned red capsicum.
- Article first published in the Sunday Star Telegraph, 15 July 2001. To view or download PDF of this feature CLICK THIS LINK —> Spear Campaign