So with Christmas come and gone we’re approaching high summer (thirty degrees in Wellington yesterday! Who would’ve thought it?!), suddenly tomatoes and courgettes are cheap, sweetcorn is… well… if not yet cheap, at least available, and asparagus season is getting ready to wind down. I’m sure for many of you the initial excitement around the appearance of one of the most-celebrated spring vegetables has died down. But not for me: I was in Japan for most of asparagus season this year and I’m in serious catch-up mode now.
I adore all forms of asparagus (except tinned ones and those that have been boiled to death), but more often than not you’ll find me eating them with eggs. I know, not the most imaginative combination, but there’s something just so perfect about the contrast between bright, earnest green and runny yellow yolks that, given the option between doing something new with asparagus and having some with topped with a poached egg, I’ll almost always choose the latter.
Which is probably why it took me so long to try out this recipe for asparagus mimosa from everyone’s* favourite Ottolenghi cookbook, Plenty. Because who can be bothered looking up new recipes for asparagus when you can just chuck some spears in the oven drizzled with olive oil, or in a pool of garlic butter sizzling in a skillet, then sprinkle over some salt and pepper, top with a poached egg, bam. Need variation? Lemon zest/juice, or parmesan, or pine nuts or all three. Or soy sauce and butter, or miso butter. Too easy.
So I almost always skip the asparagus recipes, and I don’t really think too much of it. But today I thought, it’s Boxing Day, why not do something a little special? And now I’m kicking myself for not having made this before: it’s incredibly simple, I almost always have all the ingredients at hand, but it feels a bit fancier than my usual poached egg on asparagus. Ottolenghi suggests adding some chopped tarragon to make it extra nice and I couldn’t agree more – the subtly aniseedy flavour adds a sort of haunting sweetness that ties together the sharp saltiness of the capers and the soft grated egg. If you have tarragon in the garden, don’t leave it out. (If you don’t have tarragon in the garden, I suggest you plant some asap.)
I ate this greedily, messily, alone in my lounge following an afternoon swim at the beach, and it was the best thing ever. I’ll be doing this again before asparagus season’s up.
Ottolenghi’s asparagus mimosa
(adapted from my favourite cookbook of all time, it’s probably safe to say)
For 1-2 people as a starter or a snack:
Boil an egg. Ottolenghi suggests simmering it for 9 minutes or so; I lost track of time and cooked mine for about 11, but even still it was only just hard-cooked, so use whatever timing/method you trust the most. (You don’t want it to be overcooked, but you want the yolks to be cooked through so you can grate them.) Let the egg cool down in a bowl of water. Peel the egg; grate it on a cheese grater.
Take a bunch of asparagus – ten or so thick stalks will do, more if they’re slender – and snap off the woody ends. Bring some water to the boil in a pot wide enough to hold the asparagus stalks. Simmer the asparagus for a couple minutes or until tender. Drain and run some cold water over them – not enough to cool the stalks completely, just enough to slow them down, they’ll continue to cook if they’re still hot.
Coat the spears with the best olive oil you have – something with clean, grassy notes will play off the herbaceousness of the asparagus quite nicely – using your hands to roll the tips in the oil if you need to. Season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and top with the grated egg and capers. Sprinkle with chopped fresh tarragon if you have it.
Best eaten alone**, with your hands, dipping and smushing the asparagus into the grated egg, scooping up capers with your fingers, pushing each spear into your mouth, licking your fingertips afterwards. Or just use a fork.
*well, if you’re me or anyone I know who owns this book, anyway
**or in the company of someone whom you don’t mind witnessing this slovenly spectacle