Okay, so I was more optimistic and hopeful about the possibility of serving asparagus as part of the Canterbury Faire feast than realistic about the probability of getting decent fresh asparagus at the start of February. Still, with a number of avid asparagus eaters amongst my testers, I had plenty of people more than happy to indulge my desire to try out three different means of serving asparagus.
Asparagus, from Castelvetro, p53
Castelvetro presents three different ways that people in Italy ate asparagus. They are all quiet straightforward and easy to replicate.
The first is to serve the asparagus raw, with salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese. I was dubious about this version, thinking it might be too crunchy for most people. Nevertheless, I duly sprinkled table salt and freshly ground pepper over some raw, washed asparagus. I then added some finely grated Parmesan cheese, which unfortunately hadn't been entirely cooperative about being grated and had fragmented off into little chunks as well.
This was the surprise hit of the night, with everyone finding it refreshing and tasty, and several people commenting that it was good for clearing the palate. The biggest problem was that the salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese just didn't want to stick to the asparagus - something that could potentially be solved by drizzling a little oil over, or rolling the stems in oil first. My testers commented that the finely grated pieces of Parmesan cheese had an advantage over the chunks, as they more naturally wanted to curl around the asparagus stalks.
This is something I would definitely be inclined to serve at feasts when it's in season, as it is tasty, slightly out of the ordinary, very easy to prepare, and meets most dietary requirements.
The second serving option that Castelvetro offers is to serve the asparagus cooked, with oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. I blanched the asparagus in boiling water first, although because I was doing several things at once it ended up definitely cooked. I then drizzled olive oil over, splashed on some white vinegar, and sprinkled on some table salt and freshly ground pepper.
This was the second most preferred option for the majority of my testers. It was mostly found to be good, but nothing exceptional. For a few, my pepper-sprinkling technique needed a little practice as they found that there was too much pepper for their liking.
The third way that Castelvetro suggests you can serve asparagus is to oil the spears, then roll them in salt and pepper, and roast them on a grill, then serve sprinkled with orange juice.
I rolled my asparagus spears in olive oil before rolling them in table salt and freshly ground black pepper. Not having access to a grill, I put them on a baking tray and cooked them in the oven at 180°C for about 20 minutes, turning them halfway through. They ended up on the lower rack as I was also cooking the lamb and meatballs, but this seemed to work well as they weren't directly under the element.
When they came out of the oven, the salt had sort of melted into the oil to form a layer of crystallised salt encasing parts of the asparagus. I can't remember if I remembered to add the orange juice to serve or not.
This was the recipe that polarised people. Those that liked salty foods enjoyed the asparagus, those that didn't, didn't enjoy it very much. Some thought that perhaps using rock salt instead of table salt might help, as there would be less salt overall on each stalk - I think this would be worth trying. This was also the recipe that people commented on the texture not being as nice as with the other two serving methods.
It was good to try out the three options that Castelvetro presents, as something a bit different and lighter. Any of these options would work well as a salad for one of the credenza courses at a feast. They're also relatively quick and easy to prepare, and suitable for most dietary requirements, so a doubly good option.