We eat asparagus as much as we can during its fleeting season – for weekend starters, for brunch and for midweek suppers too. Here are two recent supper dishes. One of these goes back pretty much to the start of my interest in cooking, the other is a new take on asparagus risotto.
Asparagus and Brown Butter Risotto with Shrimp
This is a recipe from just a few weeks ago from Thomasina Miers in The Guardian. The recipe link is here, and so I won’t repeat the technique.
What is it about burnt or brown butter and asparagus? It’s only been in the last year or two that I have realised burnt butter is potentially an even better accompaniment than the simply melted stuff. Thomasina Miers also has a great asparagus salad with cheese and burnt butter dressing that I blogged about last year. This new recipe puts the combination into a risotto.
The burnt butter is used in three ways here: with oil as the fat to sweat the onions and coat the rice, to sauté the asparagus tips, and to drizzle over the finished risotto. It adds a layer of nutty complexity, changing the creamy tastes of a risotto into something that, almost paradoxically, tastes lighter and sharper. It’s a very, very good match with the asparagus.
I was buying the ingredients for this dish on a weekday when the fishmonger was closed. The supermarket didn’t have brown shrimps and so I used the end of a bag of frozen and defrosted small prawns. They were fine and gave a nice texture. I’d do it again that way – but brown shrimps would have made the dish a little more nuttily decadent.
A few other notes:
– The title of the recipe on the Guardian site refers to mace, but Miers uses nutmeg. I assume this was an editorial error – it wouldn’t be The Guardian’s first. The two spices should be pretty much interchangeable given that one is the skin of the other, but I used nutmeg and that worked well with the burnt butter.
– Although I made a full portion of the risotto, so that we would have some lunch leftovers, as usual I used less Parmesan than the 50g suggested in the recipe. I did, though, remember to throw in an old Parmesan rind from the freezer as the rice was cooking.
– Jamie Oliver is an advocate of using dry vermouth rather than wine for risotto, which is also Thomasina Miers’ suggestion in this recipe. I think generally with an asparagus or spring vegetable risotto, I would use wine, but the richness of the burnt butter meant vermouth worked well here.
This is just a little more faff than a standard asparagus risotto, but it was worth it – and it’s still easily do-able on a weekday evening. I’d highly recommend it while asparagus is still in season.
Asparagus and mushroom tagliatelle
This recipe is – lo and behold! – from an M&S pasta cookbook from 1996, authored by someone called Sally Mansfield, who is best known for a whole series of books about potatoes. 1996 was before we called M&S M&S – a tell-tale logo ages the book: ‘St Michael from Marks & Spencer’. In fact, we might well have still called it Marks & Sparks then. (Why?)
It’s a wholly reliable, really tasty recipe that we make once or twice every asparagus season – and it’s so quick that it’s perfect for a midweek supper. What sets this apart from other asparagus pasta recipes is, I think, the combination of ginger (but take care not to overdo it) and tarragon. You wouldn’t think the two would go together, but the ginger works with the mushrooms and the tarragon with the asparagus and they seem to bring the two main ingredients closer together.
Since this is not available on the internet, I have included the full recipe below, slightly adjusted to my technique – so, for example, I steam rather than blanche the asparagus and then use the steaming water for the pasta. This recipe is intended to serve four, but for two I reduce the pasta (and maybe the cream) and judge the rest of the ingredients by sight – a bunch of asparagus, a couple of handfuls of chestnut mushrooms etc. That can be a matter of taste and inclination, in my view.
- 250g asparagus (or just use a bunch…)
- 125g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
- 2.5cm piece of ginger, grated
- 25g butter
- 1 tbsp chopped tarragon
- 250ml double cream or crème fraiche
- tagliatelle (fresh or dried)
- salt and pepper
- strips of lemon zest
- sprigs of parsley or chopped parsley (optional, to garnish)
- Steam the asparagus until just short of being tender. When cool, cut on the diagonal into 2.5 cm lengths.
- Gently melt the butter in a large pan.
- Add the asparagus, mushroom and ginger, mix and allow to cook slowly, without browning, for 5-8 minutes. Add the tarragon or cream or crème fraiche and season to taste. Stir well, then simmer gently for 5 minutes.
- While the vegetables are softening, cook the tagliatelle according to packet instructions in the water used to steam the asparagus, with some salt added.
- Drain the pasta and stir it into the asparagus and mushroom mix. Serve, garnished with the strips of lemon zest and, if liked, the parsley sprigs.
Remember, asparagus is for weekdays not just weekends! Please, please cook with it copiously while in season.