A springtime treat in France, violet asparagus - gently steamed and then served with hollandaise sauce, divine! All that is needed to accompany this seasonal delicacy is crusty bread and chilled white wine. There are several ways of making this classic French sauce, I give you a very simple method here, and this recipe is well behaved enough to stay warm for up to 30 minutes! There are three types of cultivated asparagus: white, violet and green. The exposure time of asparagus to sunlight determines its colour – under sunlight the white asparagus turns first violet and then green. The cultivation methods applied determine the colour. Green asparagus for example is grown above ground and tastes most similar to the “original” wild asparagus. I like to sprinkle fresh violets from the garden on my asparagus - violets are edible and even if you do not eat them, they make a beautiful garnish! Serves 4 as an appetiser and 2 to 3 as a light meal.
- Asparagus: Trim the woody ends off the asparagus spears. One of the best ways to cook asparagus is to steam it upright in a small amount of water; this way, the delicate tips of the stalks will cook at the same rate as the thick bottoms. Use a tall, lidded pot, or a double boiler (invert the upper portion over the lower). There are also special asparagus cookers designed for this purpose. Or, you can lay the stalks flat in a collapsible vegetable steamer placed in a large skillet.
- To handle the asparagus easily, tie the spears into bundles of 10 with kitchen string. Add 2" of water to the pot, bring to a rapid boil, then cover. (You can add a clove of garlic, a slice of onion, or a lemon wedge to the water.) Cooking time: five to eight minutes, depending on the thickness of the spears.
- Hollandaise sauce: Melt the butter slowly in a medium-sized saucepan. Once the butter has melted, remove the pan from the heat and leave to one side.
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.
- Whilst continuing to whisk, add the lemon juice, salt and pepper to the beaten egg yolks.
- Next, very slowly to begin with, whisk in the melted butter and the 2 tbsp of water. Continue to whisk constantly.
- Return the mixture to the saucepan, heat over a very low heat, still whisking all the time until the sauce thickens.
- Serve immediately or keep warm for up to 30 minutes before serving.
- Arrange the asparagus spears on a plate - add a knob of butter to them, and serve the little Hollandaise sauce in individual bowls for dipping. You can add fresh violets and a lemon wedge if you wish. Serve with crusty bread and chilled white wine. These amounts serve 4 people as a starter and 2 to 3 people as a main meal.