With spring in the air, it’s time to enjoy the asparagus season once again. For some, asparagus has always been a bit of an elitist vegetable and a symbol of epicurean taste; it was thought to of originated in the eastern Mediterranean region and was cultivated by the Romans and Greeks as long ago as 200bc. It was highly valued for its medicinal properties as it was said to help restore eyesight, ease toothache and cure a bee’s sting. I’m not convinced about its magical healing properties, but I do love asparagus for its crisp texture and its wonderful, grassy flavour.

There are many types of asparagus but for most of us it’s a simple choice between white and green, although a purple asparagus was developed in Italy, but it is rarely seen in local markets here or anyway outside of Italy. The big difference between white and green asparagus is in its growing method. Simply put, white asparagus is grown “underground” or at least under earth. Farmers cover a thick mound of dirt over the white asparagus as it grows or cover it with black plastic to ensure that not a single ray of sunlight hits the spears, a process known as etiolation. Therefore, the white asparagus is not exposed to sunlight and doesn’t produce green chlorophyll due to a lack of Photosynthesis. The verdant asparagus pokes through the dirt as it grows, soaking up the sun and producing chlorophyll, which is what turns the vegetable green. Green asparagus is a bit grassy in flavour, while white asparagus is mild and slightly bitter. Purple asparagus is a bit nuttier and sweeter because it has about 20 percent more sugar in its stalks. While the stalks are purple on the outside, the interior of the asparagus is the same as a green spear.

Green is the most nutritious when comparing purple, white and green asparagus, as it contains potassium, calcium, vitamins B and C, folic acid, and beta-carotene. It also has the most fibre of the colours.

Growing wild throughout the Mediterranean, asparagus loves secluded hedgerows and undisturbed country roads. Wild asparagus or “trigueros” as they are known in Spain, grow all over the Island of Mallorca in March. The locals spend hours scouring the fields and roadsides filling their baskets with them. In certain parts of Spain, the search for wild, green asparagus is regarded almost as a sport, requiring sharp observation and a somewhat reckless spirit, as finding them is no easy task.

When choosing asparagus, look for firm, brightly- coloured spears with tight, crisp tips. (Very large stalks tend to come from older plants and can be tough.). If the stalks bend without breaking it’s a good sign that they have seen better days. Asparagus is usually boiled or steamed, but can be grilled or roasted for a different, slightly nutty flavour. There is a special asparagus pan (useful but not necessary) that allows the spears to stand upright in boiling water, while the steam gently cooks the more delicate tips. But you can cook them simply in a large pan of boiling water, cover and boil anywhere from 3-6 minutes – this will depend on the size and freshness of the spears. (450g should be enough for 2 people.). The classic accompaniment for steamed or boiled asparagus is hollandaise sauce but all fish and shellfish dishes, roast lamb, wild mushrooms and truffles can also be perfect partners along with anchovies, aioli, new potatoes, smoked bacon and cheese sauce.

Asparagus, Parmesan & new potato frittata

Serves 2-3

  • 200g new potatoes, sliced
  • 100g green asparagus tips
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 50g grated Parmesan
  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bunch of rocket leaves
  • Seasoning

Put the potatoes in a pan of cold salted water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, cook for 2-3 minutes until nearly tender, and then add the asparagus tips for a final 2 minutes. Drain well. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in an ovenproof frying pan and add the chopped onion. Cook for about 2-3 minutes until softened. Mix the eggs with half the cheese in a bowl and season well. Pour over the onion in the pan and scatter over the asparagus and new potatoes. Top the frittata with the remaining cheese and place under a hot grill for 4-5 minutes to set. Leave to cool slightly and slide the frittata onto a large plate. Cut into wedges and serve with dressed rocket leaves.

Baked cod in a pine nut-parmesan crust with a light green asparagus-yoghurt soup

Serves 4

  • 4 thick fillets of cod, about 200g each
  • 100g pine nuts, coarsely chopped
  • 4 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 10 fresh basil leaves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Asparagus and natural yoghurt soup
  • 2 bunches of green asparagus, chopped
  • 500ml fish stock
  • 1 large potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 200ml milk
  • 2 tbsp plain low fat yogurt
  • Seasoning

Preheat the oven to 425ºF (220ºC).

Combine the pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, basil, garlic and olive oil in a food processor to form a thick paste.Place the cod filets on a baking sheet and season with salt. Pat the pine nut mixture onto the salt cod fillets, pressing lightly to make it adhere. Bake in the middle of the oven for 8 minutes, until the fish is opaque and just cooked all the way through.

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Asparagus and natural yoghurt soup

Place the chopped asparagus, potato and onion in a large saucepan and cover with the fish stock. Bring to the boil and cook for 10-15 minutes and add the milk. Place in a food processor and blend to a fine puree. Pass through a fine sieve; add the natural yoghurt and season to taste.

To serve

Place the cod fillets in the centre of 4 warmed soup bowls, pour around the hot asparagus soup and serve.

White asparagus with Serrano ham & chive-caper dressing

Serves 4

  • 16 white asparagus spears, trimmed
  • 8 slices of Serrano ham

For the dressing:

  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp capers, chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped chives
  • 1tsp clear honey
  • Seasoning

Whisk the lemon juice with the mustard and honey and pour in the olive oil while whisking. Stir in the capers and chopped chives. Season with salt & pepper. For the asparagus, peel the stems with a potato peeler. Boil in salted water for 12-15 minutes until the spears are tender. Drain well. Divide the warm or cold asparagus between 4 plates. Lay the ham on top and drizzle over the dressing.

Saffron “Brandada” with Chorizo & Wild Asparagus

Serves 8

  • 16 very fine slices of Chorizo “Iberico”
  • 16-20 cooked asparagus tips

Saffron “brandada”

  • 1 kl salt cod (de-salted)
  • 500g mashed potatoes
  • 500ml milk
  • A pinch of saffron
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 150ml olive oil
  • ½ onion studded with 2 cloves
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • A pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Place the salt cod in a saucepan and cover with the milk. Add the onion and saffron; bring slowly to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Remove the cod and add to mashed potatoes. Add olive oil, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, lemon juice and 200ml of the milk to form a light puree. Season to taste. Divide the “Brandada” between individual earthenware dishes; add 2 slices of chorizo and 2 or 3 asparagus tips. Bake in a hot oven for 6-8 minutes and serve.