The boisterous flavours of new spring vegetables call for the equally rambunctious aroma wallop of a good Kiwi sav blanc - all that tropical fruit, fresh-cut grass, gooseberry and lemongrass typical of savvy from Marlborough - rioting across your tongue.
Asparagus has a great and natural affinity for sauvignon blanc: you often find flavour strains of the former wafting through a mouthful of the latter. But the other ingredients in this dish make what would normally be a straightforward combination a little more convoluted: the deep savoury nuttiness of the hazels and the bitter tang of chicory augment the forceful, youthful nature of asparagus, adding extra layers of texture, astringency and richness. You'll need either a particularly full-flavoured young savvy to stand up to the taste overload, or a sauvignon that's been given the full box of winemaking tricks: barrel ferment, wild yeast, lots of lees-stirring, the lot.
Luckily, the 2009 vintage produced some particularly punchy sav blancs in Marlborough, and an increasing number of producers in that fast-expanding region are beginning to be a lot more adventurous in their winemaking.
The forceful flavour of asparagus needs a heavy-hitting partner to counteract it: enter feisty Kiwi sav blanc.
- 60 gm hazelnuts
- 100 ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 1 tsp thyme leaves
- 100 gm (2½ cups) crustless sourdough bread, coarsely torn
- 2 bunches asparagus, trimmed
- 100 gm baby chicory leaves (see note)
Goat’s cheese dressing
- 80 gm soft goat’s cheese, crumbled
- 2 tbsp milk
- ½ garlic clove, finely chopped
- 2 tsp thyme leaves
- 1 lemon, finely grated rind only
- 1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1Preheat oven to 180C. Place hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking tray, roast until golden (6-8 minutes). While warm, rub with tea towel to remove skins, chop coarsely, cool.
- 2Meanwhile, combine 60ml olive oil, garlic and thyme in a bowl, add sourdough, toss to combine, spread in a single layer on a separate baking tray, season to taste and bake, stirring occasionally, until golden and toasted (6-8 minutes), cool.
- 3Meanwhile, for goat’s cheese dressing, stir all ingredients continuously in a small saucepan over low heat until smooth and warmed through (3-5 minutes). Season to taste and keep warm.
- 4Preheat a grill to high. Place asparagus in a single layer on a baking tray, drizzle with remaining oil, season to taste and grill, turning occasionally, until golden and cooked through (3-5 minutes). Combine hazelnuts, toasted sourdough, asparagus and chicory in a bowl, toss to combine, season to taste, drizzle with dressing and serve.
Note Chicory is a bitter green leaf available from select greengrocers. If baby chicory is unavailable, substitute the tender leaves of mature chicory or another bitter green. Drink suggestion by Max Allen