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In 2010, the first year of this blog, my asparagus started sprouting in the last week of September.  I looked back in my gardening diary that goes back over 25 years and couldn’t find an asparagus pick earlier than September.  In 2011, it was mid-September.  In 2012, we were eating asparagus by late August.  In 2014 it was mid August.

This year, well, here it is not even the last week in July yet and here we are, eating asparagus.

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This is a bit of a  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge rules cheat.  Now the days have started really lengthening, even the geriatric chooks are laying so handmade pasta with real eggs was in my mind. And then I was looking for a cake tin deep in the back of the shelf and came across a fluted flan tin that I forgot I had.  And in a moment of inspiration realised it would work to cut pasta.  So I decided to try hand making farfalle.

The next decision was primavera with the lovely sweet baby spring vegetables, or carbonara which would use up another egg, so I compromised by combining both. The whole meal didn’t take much over the half hour of the rules, and it was quite simple and easy, but if I were making it for more than two and trying to get it done in the half hour, I think I’d go for a simpler pasta shape.

The Recipe:

Makes two adult sized serves.

The Pasta

In a food processor, blend for just a minute till it comes together into a dough:

  • ½ cup baker’s flour  (I use the same Laucke Wallaby Unbleached Bakers Flour that I use for my sourdough, but any high gluten flour will work)
  • a large egg,
  • a spoonful of olive oil,
  • a good pinch of salt.

Flour the workbench and knead very briefly, kneading in enough more flour to make a smooth, non-sticky dough. It will look like quite a small dough ball, but a little bit goes a long way.

With a floured rolling pin, roll the dough out very thin.  (If you flip it several times while rolling, you’ll find you can easily get it very thin without sticking. The thinner the better.)

I put it onto a chopping board to cut, but that will depend on your bench hardiness. You can then cut it into any shape you like. To make farfalle, I used the fluted edge of the flan tin to cut the pasta into strips about 2.5 cm thick, then into 5 cm lengths.  You can fold and stack the pasta and cut 5 or 6 layers at once to make it a bit faster.  I then just squeezed the centre of each little piece of pasta to make the bow shape.  This is the bit that takes time. Kids may enjoy helping.

Put a pot of water on to boil and leave the pasta spread out to dry a little while you make the sauces.

The Carbonara:

You don’t need to wash the food processor.

Blend together:

  • egg
  • 80 grams of low fat feta
  • 2 big dessertspoons of low fat cottage cheese

The Primavera:

They are all fresh vegetables that take no time to cook, so this will come together in 5 minutes;

In a heavy frypan, with a little olive oil, add (in more or less this order, giving it a stir with each addition)

  • a small leek, finely chopped
  • a handful of  single shelled broad beans
  • 4 or 5 leaves of kale or silver beet, or a couple of each (just the greens, not the stems)
  • a big handful of shelled fresh peas
  • a big handful of snow peas, chopped into bites
  • a dozen or so olives, roughly chopped
  • half a dozen spears of fresh asparagus, any woody bits removed and roughly chopped
  • juice of half a lemon
  • a heaped dessertspoon of chopped fresh mint. (The fresh mint really changes it – it’s not essential  but really worth adding)
Take the pan off the heat and put a lid on it to conserve the heat.

Assembling:

  • Cook the pasta in the pot of boiling water until it rises to the surface, which will be in about 2 minutes.
  • Reserve a little of the cooking water and drain the pasta, then return it to the hot pot.
  • Blend a little of the cooking water in with the carbonara sauce to make a cream consistency, then gently toss it through the pasta in the hot pot. Put the lid on and leave for a minute for the egg to just coddle a little and thicken the sauce.
  • Add the vegetables, toss through and serve, with a grating of parmesan and black pepper on top.

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My asparagus is sprouting, so I think it’s telling me that it is time to plant out the baby seedlings I have in the shadehouse.  Last year the wallabies really devastated my asparagus and I lost heaps of plants, so this year I am replanting a complete new bed to make up for them. I like having lots, enough for eating and gifting.  It’s such a gourmet vegetable, you feel really rich with lots!

These babies won’t bear harvestable shoots for two or three years.  However provided I can keep the wallabies away, they should then bear for twenty years or more.  I could shorten the wait by buying two year old crowns, but did I say I want lots?

Asparagus comes in male and female, and the standard wisdom is to cull the female plants as the spears are skinnier.  Luckily I left some females in, so last autumn  I was able to pick the little red berries with seeds and propagate  a tray full.

I transplanted the babies into a mix of creek sand and compost and they spent the winter in the shadehouse, being fed with seaweed brew for the last month or so.

I shall plant them out at about 50 cm spacing into a bed that has been well composted and mulched.  Since they will be there for a long time, it is worth preparing well.  The spot I have for them is on the north-east, downhill side of an annual vegetable bed.  I figure that they will capture any runoff water and nutrients.  The mature ferns in summer grow a metre or more tall,  but because they die back completely over winter, they won’t shade the bed during the part of the year it needs full sun.

In late autumn, asparagus dies back completely.  I top dress with compost and mulch the bed heavily with a light, high carbon mulch that won’t heat up.  In spring, right about now, the shoots start to appear through the mulch. My well established plants will yield a spear or two every couple of days from now through November.  Then I shall stop harvesting and allow them to grow out to store enough food for next winter’s dormancy.

I had planned, today, to put in another tray of carrots and spring onions, using my standard method. But I got a bit too vigorous pulling nettles along the fence, (making sure there were no more hole the wallabies could use to get to the asparagus).  And I ended up with a piece of wire through my thumb and a quick trip into the local hospital.  Kyogle Hospital is wonderful!  But the carrots will have to wait.

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