Asparagus is best fresh and simply prepared

Asparagus is a truly seasonal treat and this year we got the opportunity to feast on asparagus when my friend Kate called by with a bag of spears from Ardross farm. As it was so fresh it needed nothing more than cooking quickly in a pan of salted boiling water.

My only addition was to serve it with a herb and garlic butter.


You could say mint is asparagus’s bestie from the herb garden. Making a herb butter is so easy. I simply added a finely chopped sprig of mint to softened butter and a chopped and squashed clove of garlic.   I used about 100 grams of butter so that I would have a reserve for the next meal of asparagus.

Mint springs up as quickly as asparagus in spring and a little mint is great with asparagus

Asparagus has been available from other areas of New Zealand in the shops for a while now but I have held out until the local Palmerston asparagus became available as I wanted my first taste to be as fresh as possible.  Well I was spoilt last asparagus season when I sampled some asparagus spears from our Auckland Sanctuary Community garden. I had heard that in the time it takes to walk from the garden to the kitchen the flavour of asparagus changes.  I cut and ate a raw spear and it was a completely different vegetable with an almost pea like flavour.

Lea’s garden bed.


My friend Lea who has limited vegetable garden space decided to grow asparagus in a devoted raised bed. She chose this aristocratic vegetable over others because it delivers both intrigue and unbeatable flavour when grown organically in a home garden.   The hard work has been done building up a good rich soil and patiently waiting a couple of years before harvesting. Now she is reaping the benefits of asparagus popping up regularly over the season. We too were rewarded as her dinner guests when she prepared the asparagus in another simple and delicious way.  Lea sauteed her freshly harvested asparagus in olive oil, with garlic and finished it off with a squeeze of lemon juice.

When I was studying organic horticulture I was shocked to find out that asparagus is one of the most frequently sprayed vegetables when commercially grown. If you are lucky enough to live near Napier you can buy organically grown asparagus from  JJ Organics at Onekawa. Judy and Jane also sell their organic produce at the Napier Urban Food Market in the city centre every Saturday morning.

Lea is thrilled with her special plot of asparagus and puts down her success to the seaweed she has added to the bed.   Asparagus is naturally a coastal plant so seaweed is the best fertiliser with it’s rich supply of vitamins, amino acids and trace elements.

I have been encouraged from what I have seen and tasted at the community garden and closer to home in Lea’s garden … so much so that next year I plan to plant a permanent asparagus plot myself in my own raised bed under construction called a Hugelkultur.

Augustines of Central pickled asparagus.

Asparagus is a seasonal vegetable so my son Gus, who has the preserving label Augustines of Central, has been busy this season pickling local Palmerston asparagus in organic apple cider vinegar with Central Otago wild thyme and fennel seeds. Gus wants to offer asparagus that can be enjoyed out of season in a different form and perfect for an antipasto platter. Watch out for this product next year and a progress report on my asparagus plot at Portobello.







Spring brings Asparagus, Onion Weed, and Nasturtiums to the plate

Spring in Auckland has crept up and surprised me – I really didn’t see it coming.  It seems just a couple of weeks ago that the gracious Plane trees lining our streets gave us an open view to the sky.

Plane Tree archway down Picton Street, Ponsonby

Newly clothed with green they lean together to create the charming archways that are a feature of Auckland’s leafy suburbs.  The trees leafing up, longer days, and packed garden centres are clues that there is definitely a change of season.

I know spring is here when asparagus arrives.  Asparagus is the first vegetable of the new growing year.  Price wise, now is a good time to eat asparagus as there is plenty at the markets and in the shops.

Another spring time resident on our property, and most likely in yours, is often cursed by gardeners as a nuisance.  For me wild onion or onion weed is a spring onion alternative and it’s free! To harvest, use a fork (unless the ground is very soft with rain) otherwise you will fail to get the small bulbs out. Eating them is a most satisfying way to keep your wild onion weed under control.  They take a little time to wash and sort but they are really tasty.

The onion weed with its distinctive clusters of white flowers marked with fine
green lines.  You can eat all parts of this weed, the small onion bulbs,
the stems and the flowers .  Test that its not a decorative bulb by running
your hand down the stem and it will smell of onion.

Spring inspires us all to get back into salads. Here’s a way to make one bunch of asparagus go a long way.  This salad could be a satisfying lunch on its own or a wonderful side to the first barbequed sausage of the season.

My Risoni salad as photographed by my daughter Tansy with a proper camera

Risoni Asparagus Salad with Onion Weed and Nasturium Flowers

This salad because can fool you. It’s made from Risoni (pronounced ree-soh-nee) and while it could be mistaken for rice, it’s actually a type of pasta. It’s also known as risi (Italian for rice) and is sometimes referred to as orzo, although this tends to be slightly larger.  Risoni in Italy is often used in soups.

 I really like to use Risoni for  salads – because it looks like rice but has a smooth soft texture that takes up the flavours of olive oil, herbs and lemon to create a salad that is eaten with relish in our house. 

I was missing my old glass lemon squeezer so Peter found me this
wonderful kitchen tool, its a lemon squeezer, zest and fine grater all in one..
its so useful and only cost $5


One bunch of asparagus (or as much as you like)
juice of a lemon
3-4 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 Cup of Rizo pasta
a handful of walnuts chopped
Preserved lemon rind finely chopped (optional but really gives this salad a lift)
About 1/2 cup of chopped onion weed bulbs and white part of the stems
Salt and Pepper
Generous bunch of herbs chopped- whatever is available
Alternatively if you have some pesto you could add 1-2 tbsp (to taste)
Cos or any lettuce leaves

On the base of risoni build up the flavours with herbs or pesto, spring onions
or onion weed, chopped nuts (optional) and then add the lemon juice and
olive oil to taste and then add sliced up asparagus.

Cook the risoni pasta as you would any other dried pasta – with plenty of well salted water.  I use 3/4 of a cup of dried pasta and this made plenty of salad for 3.  Once cooked (don’t overcook it or it will all stick together and not free flow) pour into a sieve and run cold water through the pasta to separate.

While the risoni is cooking, also cook the asparagus.   You could oil them and simply grill them, but for this recipe, I prefer to cook them in a high sided pan in salted boiling water until “just” cooked. It only takes 1-2 minutes.

Make sure you don’t include the end woody bits.  I simply bend the asparagus holding the stalk end until it snaps.   It breaks in the place where the stems are soft.   You may think what a waste but you don’t want to chew on woody asparagus.

Take out of the hot water immediately and spread out on a tea towel to cool quickly. This will ensure the asparagus remains a good green.

You can use more parsley and herbs for this
recipe than I did here as I was restricted by the
quantity available.  Two tablespoons of parsley
per person gives you your daily vitamin K requirement.

Next chop up your herbs.  I use whatever herbs I have around – parsley, I nearly always use, and on this occasion added some fresh mint that goes really well with asparagus, a little fennel and coriander.  In the summer tarragon and basil are great additions too.

Put all the ingredients together, adding the oil and lemon juice last and to taste.  You may not need to use all your lemon or you may want more.  It’s so important to taste your salad to ensure you have a good balance of flavours.

I served this salad on a bed of mini cos lettuce that gave a crunchy contrast to the soft flavourful risoni.
I added two of my favourite edible flowers nasturium and calendula petals. Both these plants are flowering now and I find their bright colours make for a happy and tasty salad.   Nasturtiums are also called Indian Cress.  The flowers give a peppery bite to the salad.

I discovered a great blog and will try this recipe  Garden Betty’s Nasturtium Pesto
when I find enough nasturtiums.
Photo from Mens that I liked.

Asparagus is a powerhouse vegetable and I discovered a great description of the health benefits of this first vegetable of spring on   UK Mens Health in an article titled “Four Reasons to Eat Asparagus”
They also have recipes and suggest using asparagus in risotto…I whole-heartedly agree.

In spring at the Otago Farmers Market in Dunedin everyone waits in anticipation for the asparagus from Palmerston.  It’s sought after because it is so fresh. There is no comparison with the asparagus you buy from shops.  Asparagus quickly deteriorates, eating its own sugars, so to taste the sweetest asparagus you need to grow it yourself, or buy directly from growers, or at a farmers market.

Peter seeking shade and smelling the pelagonians
at Auckland Botanical Gardens

It’s Labour Weekend.  Traditionally this is a time to plant your potatoes and other spring crops.   Do take some time out from work to just stop and enjoy the warmth, soft colours and birdsong of spring.