Isn't it funny how some words are more fun to say out loud than others? Bibulous. Molybdenum. Flibbertigibbet. Asparagus. Assssparrrrragus! Say it out loud! And clearly TS Eliot agreed with me – he named one of the feline characters in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats Asparagus:
Gus is the cat at the Theatre Door.
His name, as I ought to have told you before,
Is really Asparagus. That's such a fuss
To pronounce, that we usually call him just Gus.
Cats and asparagus seem to be linked in my life (despite what I said about fluffy kittens at Food Blogger Connect '10!). When I was about ten, we got a Persian cat – a silver tabby of impeccable pedigree called Ali Pasha's Silver Smoke on his birth certificate. We called him Smokey but all his life he lived up to his far grander official name. His coat was never matted, he walked with the air of a cat accustomed to the good things in life, and he ate his food delicately (unlike our other younger cat Caesar, who was the messiest of eaters!). But if you really wanted to see Smokey lose the plot and all sense of feline dignity, all you had to do was open a tin of… white asparagus. Yes, you read that correctly – not tuna, not chicken, but asparagus. He would come bounding in from anywhere in the garden with the first turn of the can opener, and once he caught a whiff of the asparagus there was no stopping him. He would try to jump onto the kitchen counter or claw his way up the kitchen cupboards, all while emitting the most astonishing volley of desperate meows, until my mom tossed him a spear. Maybe we should have called him Gus instead of Smokey
Since we never really had asparagus in any other form but tinned white when I was growing up, I have no idea what Smokey might have made of fresh green asparagus – but I can tell you that since I discovered them, there has been no turning back. I love their delicate taste, their crunchy texture and their sculptural shape. And although I love them chopped up in pasta, liquidised into soup, or wrapped in bacon and pan-fried, I mostly like to eat them as simply as possible – barely steamed and still crunchy – in salads.
One of the things we got in our Food Blogger Connect '10 goodie bags was a little pot of Purely Pesto basil pesto. Truth be told, I managed to get my mitts on quite a few pots as my fellow Spice Girls did not want to pack a potentially leaky pot of pesto into their luggage! I must admit that my first thought was pesto schmesto – can't possibly be exciting. But that was before I opened my first little pot. This is proper hand-made pesto, more like what you would make yourself at home than the over-processed pastes that you buy in the supermarket. There are visible chunks of cheese and bits of pine-nut and it actually has a texture! Who knew. It seemed a waste to use this in anything but its most unadulterated form, and spooned over the asparagus, it made for a summery little plate of heaven. Purely Pesto also make other pestos, hummus, mayonnaise and soups – and I'm keen to try them all!
I would suggest that you use the slimmest, youngest asparagus spears that you can find for this – the thicker the spears, the more prep you will have to do. I use a vegetable peeler to remove the woody bits from the stems, but with these slimline spears, that's not necessary.
ASPARAGUS SALAD WITH PESTO AND PARMESAN (serves 2-3) Click here for printable recipe
1 bunch of green asparagus (as slim as you can find) – about 450g
a few tablespoons of really good pesto
freshly ground black pepepr
If necessary, trim the woody ends of the asparagus and wash thoroughly.
Steam the asparagus – an asparagus steamer is ideal as it cooks the thicker stems more thoroughly than the delicate tips, but failing that, any steamer that fits over a pot or pan of boiling water will do. Bring the water to the boil, then place the asparagus over it and steam for 4-6 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stems, until they are tender and bright green.
Remove from the heat and arrange on a serving plate. Spoon over the pesto and top with shavings of Parmesan and black pepper. Serve with crusty bread to mop up the pesto.
If you liked this recipe, you might also like my char-grilled courgette, asparagus and halloumi salad.