Asparagus “the aristocrat of vegetables” announces the arrival of spring — the season of fresh culinary choices. The name is derived from the Greek word Asparagos — 'sprout' or 'shoot'. It is a hardy perennial, a member of the lily family and a close relative to onions, garlic and leeks.
Most of New Zealand’s asparagus is green but a purple variety is also becoming popular. In Europe, white asparagus is sought after — it’s white because it is grown covered in soil and isn’t exposed to sunlight so the green chlorophyll doesn’t develop.
September 1 is the official start to the whitebait season on the West Coast. (It’s mid-August in all other areas.) Considered a delicacy and a luxury, New Zealand whitebait are the young of five different native fish. They measure between four-and-a-half to five-and-a-half centimetres long and are caught during spring in tidal river estuaries as the fish move upstream from the sea. They are not related to the European whitebait, which are small herrings.
Rhubarb shoots bright red tender stalks in September. It is usually served cooked but it can be eaten raw. But don’t eat the leaves. They contain oxalic acid that can poison you. To enjoy raw rhubarb, it is best dipped in something sweet first such as maple syrup or honey.
CARAMELISED ASPARAGUS & BACON
Thanks www.bidfood.co.nz for sourcing some early asparagus for me. I used Henderson’s cured and manuka smoked streaky bacon — no chemicals, no added water and gluten-free.
16 asparagus spears
4 rashers smoked streaky bacon
2 tablespoons each: olive oil, maple syrup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a large roasting pan with baking paper. Place a wire rack on top.
Snap the tough ends off the asparagus. Cut the stalks to measure about 15cm.
If the bacon is thick, run the blunt edge of a heavy knife along the bacon to ‘stretch’ it. Take 4 spears of asparagus and wrap the bacon around the bunch. Place on the rack, bacon ends down. Repeat with the remaining asparagus and bacon.
Combine the oil, syrup and sauce. Brush thoroughly over the asparagus and bacon.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the bacon is cooked. Serves 4.
WHITEBAIT & KAFFIR LIME FRITTERS
Whitebait fritters are a favourite but you might also like to try them in omelettes and quiche.
2 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons milk
2 large eggs, separated
salt and pepper to taste
1 kaffir lime leaf, julienned
lemon-infused oil for frying
2 lemons, cut into wedges
Rinse the whitebait and pat dry with paper towels.
Whisk the flour and milk until smooth then beat in the egg yolks, salt and pepper. Add the kaffir lime leaf.
Whisk the egg whites, until stiff. Fold in the flour mixture and the whitebait.
Heat 1-2 tablespoons of the oil in a non-stick frying pan. Shallow-fry heaped tablespoons of the whitebait mixture, until golden on both sides — 1-2 minutes
Drain on paper towels. Serve immediately with lemon wedges. Serves 6 as a starter.
SHAVED ASPARAGUS & SPROUT SALAD
Use the asparagus stalks only and reserve the tips for another dish.
Satay Salad Dressing: 1 tablespoon oil
1 small onion, diced
1/4-1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 cup water
1 tablespoon each: soy sauce lemon juice
Salad: 5 tender asparagus spears
2 cups mesclun leaves
2 medium potatoes, steamed and cut into batons
1 cup crispy noodles
2 hard-boiled eggs, halved
1/2 cup each: snow pea sprouts, alfalfa & onion sprouts
To make the dressing, heat the oil in a saucepan and sauté the onion, until softened. Add the remaining ingredients. Stir, until well mixed and bubbling. Cool.
Shave the asparagus using a potato peeler. Combine with the mesclun and noodles. Drizzle with a little of the dressing.
Layer the potatoes and salad on a serving plate. Top with the eggs and sprouts and drizzle with a little more sauce. Serve at room temperature. Serves 2-4.
This shortcake is cooked in a microwave oven.
Rhubarb: 350g rhubarb, cut into 3cm lengths
1/3 cup brown sugar
25g butter, diced
1 each: cinnamon stick, star anise
Shortcake: 150g butter
1/2 cup icing sugar, sifted
3 drops almond essence
1 1/2 cups flour
50 g ground almonds
Whipped cream: 1 cup cream
1 tablespoon icing sugar
few drops vanilla essence
To prepare the rhubarb, preheat the oven to 170°C. Place the rhubarb in a medium oven pan together with the remaining ingredients. Cover loosely with foil and bake for 20 minutes, stirring once. Cool.
To make the shortcake, cream the butter, sugar and almond essence then gradually work in the flour and almonds. Knead the mixture until it clings together.
Divide dough in half and press each half into a 20cm round on a piece of baking paper. Microwave each round for about 4 minutes. Stand for 2 minutes.
Gently place a 20cm cake pan over each shortbread round and neaten the edges. Cut one round into eight wedges. Cool.
Whip the cream, icing sugar and vanilla essence, until thick.
Place the whole shortbread round on a serving plate. Spread with half the whipped cream, some rhubarb pieces and a little more cream. Arrange the shortbread wedges on top and dust with icing sugar. Serves 6-8.