A light, bright ‘pesto’ of fresh asparagus, peas and feta, zinged with lemon and mint and topped with fine shavings of Parmesan. A perfect spring dish, for when spring arrives in earnest.
Cape Town is making a valiant stabs at spring at the moment, but every time I reach for my bathing suit (with modesty frill), the weather turns again and I have to retrieve my sheepskin slippers, muttering as I do so, from the top of the cupboard, where I flung them at the beginning of September.
Still, all sorts of tender spring ingredients are appearing on the shelves of my local supermarket, and I'm eyeing the asparagus with particular interest, waiting for its price to come down so I can buy it by the bucketload.
Don’t be tempted to spread this on doorstops of ciabatta: this is a delicate, summery topping that deserves hot toasted ovals of fresh baguette. This paste, and the toasts, need to be made immediately before they’re served. Don’t skip the iced water step, or you’ll end up with a sludge-green paste.
Fresh Asparagus, Peas and Parmesan on Hot Toast
30 slim spears fresh asparagus
¾ cup (180 ml) frozen petit pois
a wheel (about 80 g) feta cheese
12 fresh mint leaves
4 T (60 ml) olive oil
4 tsp (20 ml) lemon juice
½ tsp (2.5 ml) finely grated lemon zest
salt and milled black pepper
a baguette, cut into 16 thin slices
a small wedge (200 g) Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese
extra olive oil
Fill a bowl with cold water and add a handful of ice cubes. Snap off the woody bases of the asparagus and cook in rapidly boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Using a pair of tongs, remove the spears, place on a board and cut off the asparagus tips. Put the tips in the iced water for 2 minutes, drain well and reserve. Slice the remaining stalks into thirds, return to the boiling water and cook for another 2-3 minutes, or until tender. Plunge into the iced water. Add the frozen peas to the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes.
Heat the oven grill, put the bread slices on a baking tray and toast on both sides until golden brown (I cook them in a sandwich press, and they're brilliantly thin and crisp). Drain the peas and asparagus stalks and place in a blender along with the feta, mint, olive oil and lemon zest and juice. Using the pulse button, process to a slightly chunky paste. Season with salt and pepper.
Pile the warm asparagus mixture onto the toasts. Using a potato peeler, finely shave the Parmesan over the toasts. Top with the reserved asparagus tips and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately.
Serves 8 as a snack or starter.