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Asparagus with Vegan Peppercorn Sauce

Make this with British asparagus from the end of April to the middle-ish of June when the season is in full flow. This makes more sauce than you need for the asparagus (and it is quite strong), but any extra will keep covered in the fridge for up to 5 days and is delicious drizzled over roasted potatoes, grilled tofu or other seasonal vegetable treats. 

 

At the time of writing (April 2021), I'm having intense fantasies about making this for friends in X years' time when they can come round for dinner again.

 

 

Serves 4 as a side 

for the peppercorn sauce 

50g vegan butter alternative 

2 banana shallot, finely chopped 

2 tablespoons green peppercorns, roughly crushed

1 teaspoon black peppercorns, roughly crushed 

1/4 teaspoon cayenne 

1 tablespoon chopped tarragon 

1 teaspoon brown miso 

100ml brandy 

100ml vegan single cream (I used Oatly)

75ml water 

for the crispy breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 

50g soft white breadcrumbs 

1 big garlic clove, crushed 

1 teaspoon chopped rosemary, parsley, thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary or thyme 

optional: lemon zest 

for the asparagus 

olive oil, for frying 

2 x 250g bunches asparagus 

salt 

1 lemon, cut in half 

 

Start with the peppercorn sauce. Melt the vegan butter alternative in a saucepan over a medium heat and stir in the shallots and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring regularly for 5-6 minutes, until soft and translucent. Stir in both of the peppercorns and toast for a minute or so, until fragrant. Next add the cayenne, tarragon and miso and stir to combine. Pour in the brandy and bring to a simmer. Allow the mixture to reduce at a simmer by 1/3. Add the cream and water to the saucepan and bring to a simmer again. Without letting the mixture come to a furious boil, reduce until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more herbs, a little touch of sweetness if you prefer and more pepper. It's unlikely that you'll need more salt as the miso is so salty. Keep warm. 

 

Next, make the breadcrumbs. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and when it shimmers, add the breadcrumbs, garlic and herbs. Cook, stirring continuously, over a medium heat, until the breadcrumbs are deep golden and crispy all over. Add the lemon zest if using and remove from the heat. The breadcrumbs will keep in a sealed container at room temperature for up to three days. 

 

Heat a splash of oil in a large (28cm) frying pan over a high heat. Add the asparagus and sprinkle over a pinch of salt. Cook, tossing the pan every 45 seconds or so, until the asparagus is tender throughout and charred in places. 

 

Transfer the asparagus to a warm plate, drizzle over a couple of tablespoons of the sauce and top with crispy breadcrumbs.