Asparagus is one of spring’s blessings. Simply blanching them in boiling water, or grilling them in extra virgin olive oil with a sprinkle of sea salt and a couple of grinds of fresh black pepper could not be better. But after a couple of weeks of those simple techiques, and with an abundance of asparagus in the market, you have to ask yourself: what else can I do. Take a look at Anne Willan’s recipe for Asparagus with Mushrooms in a Tarragon Cream Sauce (below). Try this recipe for a special spring dinner. I suggest something simple with it, say a free range organic roasted chicken with simple herbs.
Serves 4 to 6
- 1 small bunch fresh tarragon (about 1 ounce/30 g)
- Salt and pepper
- 2 pounds/900 g green asparagus
- 3 tablespoons/45 g butter
- 4 ounces/110 g button mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
- Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons/22 g flour
- 1/2 cup/125 ml crème fraîche or heavy cream
- Grated nutmeg
Pull the tarragon leaves from the stems and chop the leaves. Add the stems to a large, shallow pan of lightly salted water (do not oversalt the water, as it will be used for the sauce) and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, using a vegetable peeler or paring knife, peel the asparagus stems, then divide them into 4 to 6 bundles. Gather each bundle, with the tips lined up evenly, and hold them vertically, tips down. Tie each bundle with string, using 2 loops of string to hold the spears in place. Trim the cut ends even.
Immerse the bundles in the boiling water and then simmer just until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the bundles to a colander and set aside the cooking liquid. Rinse the asparagus bundles briefly with cold running water to stop the cooking, and then leave them to drain, covered with aluminum foil to keep warm.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, press a piece of aluminum foil down over the mushrooms, cover, and cook until the mushrooms are tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Uncover, add the shallots, and cook, stirring, until any liquid the mushrooms released has evaporated. Meanwhile, measure 1 cup/250 ml of the cooking liquid. Stir the flour into the mushrooms, followed by the cooking liquid. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly until the sauce thickens slightly. Add the crème fraîche and bring just back to a boil. Take from the heat, add the chopped tarragon and a little nutmeg, taste, and adjust the seasoning.
Transfer the asparagus bundles to warmed plates and discard the strings. Spoon the sauce over the center of each bundle, leaving the stem ends and tips uncovered. Serve at once.