Recipe: Green shoots cannot be denied

ASPARAGUS could be seen as a gift for lazy cooks. A quick trim and a light steam, add melted butter and voila] - a dish for the gods. Well, sometimes. As many a cook will ruefully confirm, the quality of bought asparagus cannot be relied upon. No amount of steaming will render woody stems tender and delicious, and once that extraordinary green-shoot flavour has faded - often only a couple of days after cutting - this king of vegetables cries out for the support of other ingredients.

Egg, potato and breadcrumbs have been the staples of many of the recipes submitted, but Anthea Nokes of Saxmundham, Suffolk, seduced me with one she found in Gundel's Hungarian Cookbook by Karoly Gundel. The Gundel name, she writes, is as renowned in Budapest as Sacher in Vienna, Horcher in Madrid and Kempinksi in Berlin. 'I unearthed this book while on a visit to Budapest, when we discovered how good Hungarian cooking can be.'

Ms Nokes wins a bottle of Tokay Pinot Gris Reserve Rolly Gassman 1988 from Bibendum, north London. The sugar proved essential to the final amalgam of flavours that gives the extraordinary suggestion of fresh hazlenuts. The measurements need only be approximate, and the dish works well at half-quantity.

Asparagus Hungarian Style

Serves 6-8

Ingredients: 2kg (4 1/2 lb) asparagus

2oz (60g) ) breadcrumbs

2oz (60g) butter

14fl oz (400ml) sour cream

1 egg yolk

1tsp paprika

6tbs grated cheese

2tsp light muscovado sugar

parsley

salt

Preparation: Cut washed asparagus in 2-3cm (1-1 1/2 in) pieces or use only the tips. Cook the cut asparagus in salt water with a little sugar until tender. Drain well. Brown the breadcrumbs lightly in some of the butter. Mix the breadcrumbs into the sour cream, add the egg yolk, paprika, salt and sugar and stir until smooth. Butter an ovenproof glass dish, place half the asparagus in the dish, pour a third of the sour cream mixture over it. Add the other half of the asparagus and the rest of the sour cream mixture. Top with grated cheese and brown in a hot oven or under a grill for about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

Next week, more asparagus. Send ideas to: Recipe, Weekend, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.

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