In a place like Singapore, which imports almost all its food, eating with the seasons can seem like a joke.
When winter settles over the Northern hemisphere, we get bounty from the Southern hemisphere, where it is summer. So in January, there are strawberries, peaches and plums from Australia, and another harvest of them in the middle of the year from the Northern hemisphere.
There is no winter here, so there is no need to preserve fruit and vegetables at their peak in summer to enjoy in the cold, barren months.
But seasons in countries that have them dictate the sort of produce that comes to Singapore, and even with tropical fruit grown in the region, there are definite peak times to enjoy them.
When mango season hits, the smell of the ripe fruit, whether they are from Thailand, India, Pakistan or Myanmar, makes me swoon. Ditto durian. It may be available almost year round, but it tastes best in the middle of the year. Mangosteens, which temper the heatiness of durians, are also at their best during durian season.
Asparagus is in season now and when I see bunches of them in supermarkets, standing tall and proud, it is good to be reminded that there is a perfect time for everything.
MAKE IT YOURSELF: BACON-WRAPPED ASPARAGUS
12 thick stalks asparagus
4tsp Dijon mustard
12 strips streaky bacon
1. Preheat oven to 200deg C. Line a large baking tray with foil and place a metal rack on it.
2. Rinse the asparagus under running water. Cut off and discard the bottom 2cm of each stalk. Using a vegetable peeler, peel off the skin from about midway down each stalk (above). Give the asparagus another rinse and pat very dry with paper towels.
3. Mix the mustard and honey in a small bowl.
4. Place a strip of bacon on a cutting board, brush liberally with the mustard mixture. Wrap the bacon, mustard side facing in, around an asparagus stalk. Place on the rack. Repeat for all the asparagus. Brush any leftover mustard mixture on the asparagus (below).
5. Put the tray in the upper third of the oven and roast for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the bacon is browned.
6. Let rest 5 minutes outside the oven, pile on a platter and serve.
Serves four as an appetiser
I don't know about you, but I prefer thick, fleshy asparagus to the slender variety, which seems to be available year-round.
So for the next few weeks, I am going to enjoy as many fat asparagus stalks as humanly possible.
One of my favourite ways to use it comes from tinkering in the kitchen during my university days abroad. During asparagus season, supermarkets would sell big bunches of them for ridiculously low prices. For a student on a budget, a big bunch of asparagus for US$1 is irresistible.
From my mother's care packages, I would dig out dried scallops and soak a few in water overnight before shredding them.
Then I would fry them in the wok with a bit of oil and garlic before adding the asparagus stems and some oyster sauce. The tips would go in towards the end, because they cook more quickly than the stems.
Just before scooping the dish out of the wok, I would squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, give the contents a quick stir and eat the glorious mess with rice.
Years later, I still have not tired of the dish but have found other ways to enjoy asparagus.
I love steamed white or green asparagus with a topping of toasted breadcrumbs, garlic and parsley. Asparagus is also delicious in risotto, together with mushrooms.
But the weather is hot and I am not keen on standing in the kitchen stirring rice and stock until my hand falls off, so there is a really fuss-free and delicious way to use asparagus.
Wrap it in bacon.
As many of my friends like to say, everything tastes better when wrapped in bacon. This is especially true with asparagus.
I serve the dish as an appetiser, but it can make a really good brunch dish if you serve it with soft boiled eggs to dip the spears into.
Asparagus can have woody stalks and the best way to deal with that is to cut off the bottom 2cm of each stalk and peel the skin off most of the asparagus. I start about halfway down the stalk. A vegetable peeler makes quick work of this and it is worth the trouble to get quickly to the juicy centres instead of chewing away at the skin.
Plain bacon wrapped asparagus is not bad, but the whole thing is much better with a mustard and honey glaze. Brush that mixture on one side of the rasher and wrap it around the asparagus. Any leftovers can be brushed on top of the wrapped asparagus before they go into the oven.
The mellow heat of the mustard and sweet honey really adds a little something extra to the dish.
As with anything seasonal, thick asparagus is not going to be around forever. You know what to do.