The Well-Equipped Kitchen: Asparagus Steamer, with easy recipe.
I love my asparagus steamer. I love gleamy chrome and steel kitchen equipment - I've no idea why, I think perhaps because it's always shiny in an otherwise onslaught of dusty, grimy housework. The kettle furs up, the ceramic sink gets stained, but stainless steel is true to its name and comes up gleaming every time, with very little effort.
I'd Like ... an Asparagus Steamer Please
My mother bought me an asparagus steamer one Christmas. I think she considers it a little bizarre how when she asks for present suggestions kitchen equipment comes up (she knows I'm not very domesticated) but there's always something I can't help thinking would complete my kitchen a little more perfectly.
When I asked for the asparagus steamer, although I really like asparagus, it was actually more for the steamer's own sake that I wanted one. They're so different. I mean from the outside, they're just a skinny saucepan really, but they're still so different from anything else in the kitchen. Only an asparagus steamer looks like an asparagus steamer. Inside, is the removable wire basket, that lets you lower your asparagus in slowly to the steamer, a bit like a skinny deep frying basket.
A Truly Essential Non-Essential Piece of Kitchen Equipment
And actually, it is quite difficult to cook asparagus whole without one. If it can't go upright in an asparagus steamer, it has to lie horizontal in frying pan with a lid, or diagonally in a large saucepan. Both of these are a compromise. It's far more dignified for it to be cooked upright, with just a little water in the bottom of the steamer, and the asparagus barely touching the water, but steaming in the basket.
A Versatile Vegetable
Once asparagus is steamed it's a really versatile vegetable, going with many things, as a side dish. It goes especially nicely with chicken. There are all sorts of fancy recipes for asparagus - asparagus soufflé being about the most enigmatic one. It is quite a posh vegetable. Therefore you can do really simple things with it and it's still quite impressive.
Also, you're unlikely to find asparagus frozen very often, which keeps it a little more rare and more of a special treat.
Most of us have had asparagus as a starter at some point, often wrapped in ham, or prosciutto. It's almost effortless, but really tasty. I recommend trying it even if you're a hopeless cook but want to look good. You'll find more complicated sauces than this, but this is an especially quick and easy one. It's also wheat and dairy free (as long as you use real mayonnaise, which is made of eggs and oil, but no milk products). Here's how I do it:
Easy Asparagus Starter
asparagus - 3 or 4 spears of per person
wafer-thin ham, around 25 grams / one ounce per person
(a small packet of ham will be enough for 3 or 4 people)
mayonnaise - one tablespoon per person
garlic - 1/2 to 1 clove per person
black pepper, freshly ground
• wash the asparagus and chop off all the blunt ends. If it's very fresh you shouldn't have to chop much off, but make sure it's enough to remove any parts that have shrivelled, yellowed or dried out.
• heat an inch or two of water in the steamer, and when it is boiling, lower in the basket with your asparagus, and put the lid on. Leave for no more than five minutes before taking out.
• take about 25 grams/ one ounce of wafer-thin ham per person, to wrap around the asparagus.
• chop the blunt end off a peeled large clove (or two) of garlic, and crush it into a tablespoon of mayonnaise per person. (Or use a clove's equivalent of "lazy garlic" from a jar, or a squiggle or garlic purée from a tube). If you don't have a garlic crusher (another shiny, solid, desirable kitchen device) then chop the clove finely. Stir the garlic through the mayonnaise.
• use a tablespoon of the garlic mayonnaise you have made to weigh the ham in place over the asparagus.
• give the whole plate a good grinding of black pepper.
It looks pretty good, and if your guest is not much of an accomplished cook, they may be so dazzled that they don't realise how simple this dish really is. It tastes really good too and is more than a little classy. Even very sophisticated cooks serve this is as a starter, because it looks and tastes the part. You can't go wrong really. Unless you overcook the asparagus. (Watch out for that! Time your five minutes carefully).
It also looks good to add a small leafy salad to the plate. Another addition that looks a bit special as well, is a quail's egg. I would hard-boil it for a minute, just like a chicken egg, cut it in half lengthwise, and add it to the side of the plate, perhaps with a little paprika sprinkled over the top. In fact, if you put an egg on the side, there would be enough interest on the plate to leave out the ham and make a vegetarian version.
Other Uses for your Asparagus Steamer
The steamer itself is versatile too. You can cook corn-on-the-cob in it, and my husband discovered a further use over Christmas. It's ideal for warming a bottle of pre-spiced mulled wine - just fill the asparagus steamer no more than half full with very hot water, and put the bottle in for five or ten minutes. It's like the opposite of a champagne bucket.
Asparagus in Season
Asparagus is "in season" in the late spring and so cheaper, tastier, and more ecological at that time. An asparagus steamer is not something you will use every week, but my kitchen feels the kudos of it all year long!