asparagus with walnuts and parmesan

the asparagus season has started and i had the first bunch delivered on wednesday. i would normally just boil it - it's only later, towards the end of may, that you start roasting, frying and adding it to other things. but the bunch i got in the veg box this week was most definitely past its best. i’d already clocked a recipe on and knew it would work perfectly as a starter for our night in/night out (see the note below).

plus, i like the idea of doing things to nuts – probably because eating them raw gives me indigestion. boiling them and then combining them with fried onion intensifies their sweetness, which is a perfect foil for the salty cheese. i made a similar thing recently to go with trout: this time it was almonds boiled in milk and combined with fried shallots. so, the same idea, really.  not sure why that never made it in the blog, come to think of it.

you could, of course, make this without the cheese if you’re going for the strict paleo version but i am not sure it would work. you would have to salt the asparagus very generously to achieve the same contrast.

the full quantity for the walnut crema given in the recipe feeds six as a starter. i made the full amount as it’s a bit too much of a faff to scale it down for two. i’ll probably be buying asparagus again on saturday – as with purple-sprouting broccoli, i tend to go a bit overboard when the season starts – so i can make the same thing for lunch, maybe with a fried duck’s egg on the side. also, i think it would go very nicely stirred through some courgette ribbons, gently fried in olive oil.

night in/night out – this happens on weekdays when we want to go out but also feel like having some time at home. we can’t do both, so we tend to go out for dinner early somewhere local (part of the reason why we moved to N1 are the 80 or so restaurants within 10 minutes walk) and then come back home for a chat, a glass of wine and the 10 o’clock news. somehow, that final sit-down at home makes you feel like you’ve cheated time a bit, had some fun behind its back and added half an hour to a hectic day. today, we had a night in/night out at home, in the kitchen and lounge. 

for 2 (walnut crema for six)

1 bunch of asparagus
1 ½ cups of fresh walnuts
1 small red onion, finely chopped
salt and pepper
olive oil
parmesan or pecorino cheese

start with the walnuts. put them in a pan with enough boiling water to cover and cook for 10 minutes. make sure they don’t boil dry – add some water if necessary. drain and reserve the cooking  water.

in a separate pan, fry the onion with a generous pinch of salt for 10 or more minutes. it needs to be cooked through and completely soft so don't rush it.

in a processor (i used a blender, which is a pain, as you have to keep scraping the sides down), put in the nuts, the fried onion and about ¼ cup of the cooking liquid and blend until smooth. then, with the machine still on, start adding ½ cup of olive oil (or a little less, i think i used around 1/3) in a slow, steady stream. once you’re done, it should look quite a lot like hummus. if it is too thick, add a bit more of the cooking water. 

pre-heat the oven to 260C. put the asparagus on a roasting tray and rub olive oil into each spear. salt, and roast for 10 minutes or so, depending on how thick and woody your asparagus is. the very fine young spears will only need 7-8 minutes, probably. 

to assemble, cover the bottom of each plate with an even layer of crema. mine was about ½ cm thick. put the asparagus spears in a single layer on top. use a potato peeler to scatter generous slices of cheese over the asparagus. try and do this while it’s hot, so the cheese melts a little. season with black pepper.


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