May’s painting is of a bunch of huge asparagus spears. They were given to me by a friend who has nurtured his asparagus bed for years and we are often rewarded with the fruits of his labours. It took a me while to get them to stand up for this painting, but with a bit of jiggery pokery I managed. The lemon is an essential addition for both colour and flavour! What better vegetable for Spring with all that is happening in nature - frolicking lambs, nesting birds and a general joie de vivre - love is in the air and it seems, always has been associated with this tasty vegetable.
Asparagus - Did you know?
It was Queen Nefertiti who apparently called it Food for Gods. Julius Caesar adored it and Emperor Augustus is said to have kept an Asparagus Fleet for importing asparagus from the far edges of their vast empire. Imagine that – a whole fleet of ships for one little vegetable! No concerns then over carbon footprints and since they used galley slaves I don’t suppose they worried too much about market overheads. In the 1st century, the Romans even transported it to the Alps to freeze it. Obviously they had all bought in to that aphrodisiac rumour. Later the royal doctor Matthiolus (1544) wrote in his Herbal Book: “Asparagus makes men have pleasant desires.” So that must have created a stampede to the market.
The Roman poet Apuleius is supposed to have won over the heart of the wealthy widow Pudentilla with a love potion containing asparagus, crab tails, fish eggs, dove blood and a bird’s tongue. Why she should marry him after downing this beats me, but then I haven’t tasted it. Although he did win her hand, he ended up in court accused of witchcraft. There's a surprise!
Sadly the asparagus season in the UK is too late for Valentines Day. However if wooing a potential partner, it’s obviously a must on the menu. I should forget the dove blood and bird’s tongue if I were you - whilst you may not be accused of witchcraft, the RSPB won’t be too happy.
For a romantic dinner a deux, steam it until just tender and enjoy simply with butter, black pepper, a little salt and a squeeze of lemon. Anyone who saw the 1963 film Tom Jones starring Albert Finney and Susannah York, a film that gave new meaning to the term human appetite, will need no further elaboration here, except perhaps to reaffirm that butter dripping down your chin is essential.
For a less sensuous meal, this is good:
Vegetable Pasta. (serves 2)
90g whole-grain pasta (fusilli or penne)
1 small courgette, grated
150g chestnut mushrooms, roughly chopped
about 12 medium stalks of asparagus cut into 1cm pieces
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
4/5 slices prosciutto
2 tbsp. grated parmesan
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Boil the pasta according to packet instructions until al dente.
In a heavy bottomed frying pan, heat the oil and fry the mushrooms for 3mins. Add the asparagus and parsley, season and sauté for a further 3mins, stirring occasionally. Add the grated courgette and cook stirring until it goes limp. If you like your sauce wet, add a little of the pasta water.
Drain the pasta, return to the pan and mix in the vegetables. Add the torn up prosciutto, parmesan and the parsley. Toss and serve immediately. Enjoy!