Asparagus the Middle-Eastern Way

According to popular notion asparagus has some kind of cleansing effect on the human body, as is the case with many a springtime produce: dandelion, radicchio, artichokes – to name only the most obvious suspects. In terms of taste, the cultivated (garden) asparagus is not on the bitter side as opposed to wild asparagus, which is also thinner, but has a distinguished, typical flavour. And a particular smell too, which is manifested afterwards in the loo.


Market produce in April

Somehow, I have always perceived asparagus as an exclusively Mediterranean vegetable possibly stretching a bit beyond but not too much. It struck me by surprise then to have stumbled upon a recipe for  harissa marinated asparagus in Persiana, a book of Middle-Eastern recipes by Sabrina Ghayour.

It seemed an interesting take on asparagus. It never had occurred to me to either marinate asparagus or to sharpen them up with the heat. Usually I prepare them simply pan-roasted in olive oil with the addition of tomatoes or eggs or maybe pancetta (or a bit of everything). They go well with slices of smoked salmon too. Recently, I learned to add to them a good squeeze of a lemon, remaining true to my little, private citrus obsession.

Harissa Marinated Asparagus
Harissa Peperoncino Marinated Asparagus in preparation

This truly simple recipe has you mix together honey (I used coriander honey), lemon juice and zest, harissa (or any other hot chilli pepper condiment – I used crema di pepperoncino), olive oil and some salt. Once all is well incorporated, the marinade is splashed over asparagus and left alone for half an hour. In the meantime, you can fix the salad and la polenta taragna, for instance, to accompany the asparagus on your plates. After that, you just roast them. For details please follow this recipe that replicates Sabrina’s book entry or a bit of an upgraded recipe by Donna at A Cookbook Collection which gives you a good idea how to make a satisfying meal.

La polenta what?! I hear you ask. Polenta taragna is actually a dish typical of Northern Italian Alpine regions, especially around Bergamo and Brescia, and it basically comprises of two types of meal, corn and buckwheat, with the addition of butter and cheese. I bought my packet of the meal in supermarket in Corvara during our trip last month. When uncooked, it looks like regular yellow (corn) polenta dotted with black (buckwheat) specks that turns into rather unattractive brownish looking mash but tastes kinda nutty and special.

Asparagus and polenta taragna (and salad) dinner
Asparagus and polenta taragna (and salad) dinner

How do I know spring’s around (apart from laden market stalls)? Simple. My nose and eyes run, itch, irritate. Even if I were blind to all the colourful awakenings in the gardens and parks and deaf to birdsong, my personal unmistakable radar would’ve predicted correctly: pollen abound, it’s mating season, yey! Except, it’s no such fun. What can one do, eh? Start cooking.

This asparagus recipe is a second recipe from Persiana I used. The first one, veeeery memorable, was delicious lemony salmon we served as a main dish of our Christmas Eve dinner.