Fresh asparagus with hazelnuts (and a soapbox)

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Yesterday I found in my fruit shop some fresh asparagus. I eagerly grabbed two plump bunches, and some hazelnuts, and when I got home steamed the asparagus, made a browned butter and hazelnut dressing and was transported to heaven. Tender crisp, sweet and nutty, they were perfect.

You might wonder why I am rhapsodising about fresh asparagus when it is available all year round. But this was the first asparagus available for many months that was grown here, and as I consciously only buy Australian asparagus, and only eat it during its season, it has been a long wait.
In Australia, asparagus grown here is first available from mid-September, and by the end of January the season is pretty much over. So if you eat asparagus during the remainder of the year, it is most likely from Thailand or Peru. Think about the cost to our planet from the fuel expended to get asparagus here from Peru. Think about what a pittance the Peruvian and Thai farmers must be paid to enable us to purchase asparagus at a reasonable price. Think about whether you really need to have asparagus all year round – or pomegranate, or stone fruit, or strawberries.

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When we eat fruit and vegetables out of season we lose so much. We lose the anticipation of waiting for new season vegetables, and the delight when they appear in the fruit shop display; we lose that sense of having something special because it is only available for a limited time; we lose on price, because imported vegetables are often more expensive; and we lose on flavour – no vegetable that has been harvested, stored and flown here from the other side of the planet can taste anywhere as good as the same vegetable in the right season, grown less than 100 kilometers away.

Take delight in fruit and vegetables when they are in season, most beautiful, and economical. Educate yourself and find out the provenance of what you buy. And learn the pleasure of waiting. You will be amply rewarded.

Serves 2

2 bunches fresh asparagus
1/2 cup hazelnuts
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon lemon juice
sea salt

Preheat oven to 180 C. Roast the hazelnuts on an oven tray in a single layer for 15 minutes. Tip them out onto a clean tea towel and fold the tea towel in half to cover the nuts. Roll your hands vigorously over the tea towel to dislodge the hazelnut skins. Rub any remaining skins off with your fingertips, then roughly chop the hazelnuts. Fill a large frying pan with about 2 cm of water, season with salt and bring to the boil. Place the asparagus in a single layer and cook for about 3 – 4 minutes, until bright green and tender. Meanwhile bring a small pan to a high heat, add in the butter, and cook until the butter foams and begins to brown a little. Toss in the hazelnuts and then the lemon juice. Remove the asparagus from the water and place on a serving dish. Pour over the hazelnut butter and serve immediately. Beautiful with fish or chicken, or even on its own with some good chewy bread to mop up the butter.

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