by Ed Halmagyi


A certain well-regarded gentlemen’s club in one of the fashionable districts of London hangs a sign just inside the front door. According to legend it appeared in the early 19th century.

“During asparagus season gentlemen are asked to refrain from urinating in the umbrellas.”

I’m unsure as to what is more confronting about this vignette: the power of asparagus taint, or the fact that gentlemen feel free to pee in the brollies at other times of the year!

Asparagus is the undeveloped shoot of a fern-like plant that, once mature, produces a fine frond and red berries.

The wild season is short, just a few weeks long, although hybrid species are now grown in greenhouses year-round. Most of the asparagus we eat in Australia is greenhouse-grown, or is imported from Thailand, Peru and Mexico.

The lower part of an asparagus shoot is woody and has less flavour. To work out where the woody part begins, simply grab the ends in your hands, bend the stalk and wait for it to snap. The lower part may be discarded or used for making stock and soup.

Good quality asparagus should be deep green, firm, and have undamaged tips. To check for freshness, first ensure the tips are without bruise. Then, examine the base. If the cut part is dried out and shrivelled, then the shoot has been out of the ground for too long. The older the asparagus, the drier it will seem.
Steamed asparagus with pangrattato and pecorino