The Taste Of The Season

30th April 2010

The British asparagus season traditionally begins on 1 May and runs for around seven to eight short – but delicious – weeks, until the end of June.

British asparagus is hailed by leading chefs and food writers, from Jamie Oliver and Nigel Slater to Sophie Grigson and Thomasina Myers, as the best in the world. While we might all grumble about the British weather, the UK climate allows asparagus stems to develop slowly producing a full, sweet flavour and a fine, tender texture quite unlike any other crop. And because it’s grown on our doorstep (and none is exported), we can enjoy it at its most flavoursome and nutritious – it’s almost a patriotic duty!

Asparagus & cheese brunch muffins

Makes 12 large muffins

Preparation: 15 minutes

Cook: 25 - 30 minutes

Ingredients

12 spears of British asparagus
400g self raising flour
200g Joseph Heler Cheshire cheese, cut into small cubes
125g butter
1 small bunch chives, snipped into pieces
150ml milk
100ml plain yogurt
1tsp Suffolk Mud English mustard
2 eggs
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas 6 and line a 12 hole muffin tin with cases.

2. Cut the asparagus stems into small pieces, about 1cm in length, leaving the tips a little longer and blanch in boiling water for a couple of minutes. Drain and refresh under cold running water, separating the tips from the pieces of stem.

3. In a large bowl, mix the flour with the cubes of cheese.

4. Melt the butter and pour into a jug. Stir through the chives, milk, yogurt, Suffolk Mud mustard and eggs. Mix well until combined and season generously with salt & pepper.

5. Gently fold the wet ingredients into the flour & cheese, and stir through the asparagus stems. Be careful not to over mix and stop as soon as the mixture is combined.

6. Spoon the mixture evenly between the muffin cases and push an asparagus tip into the middle of each. Bake in the oven from 25-30 minutes until golden. Best eaten hot out of the oven, spread with a little cold butter.

Asparagus, pea & goats’ cheese soufflés

Serves 6

Preparation: 20 – 25 minutes

Cook: 30 minutes

Ingredients

50g butter
30g walnuts, lightly crushed
300g British asparagus
200g fresh British peas (shelled weight)
200ml whole milk
2tbs flour
3 eggs
100g goats cheese, such as Capricorn
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C / gas 6.

2. Melt the a small knob of the butter and use it to brush the inside of 6 ramekin dishes. Sprinkle the walnuts into the dishes and tap around the edge so they stick to the butter. Arrange on a baking sheet and set aside.

3. Cut the asparagus into 1cm pieces, leaving the tips a little longer. Cook with the peas in plenty of boiling salted water until tender. Drain and, reserving the asparagus tips, puree the stems and peas to a coarse paste using a hand blender or food processor. Set aside.

4. Melt the rest of the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the flour to make a roux and cook for a minute before whisking in the milk. Cook the sauce for a few minutes until thickened and remove from the heat.

5. Chop the goats’ cheese into cubes and stir through the sauce along with the pureed asparagus and peas. Season generously.

6. Separate the eggs carefully, tipping the yolks into the asparagus sauce and the whites into a really clean metal bowl. Stir the yolks through the sauce to mix well.

7. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fluffy. Don’t over whisk as they will be too dry to fold through the asparagus sauce.

Raw Asian-style asparagus & carrot salad

Serves 4-6

Preparation: 20 minutes

Cook: 10 minutes

Ingredients

1 bunch British asparagus spears
1 large carrot
1 courgette
1 shallot, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, finely sliced
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp fresh mint
½ tsp Barts Spices dried red chilli

for the dressing:
Juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp Kikkoman soy sauce
1 tsp palm sugar or light brown sugar
½ tsp shrimp paste

Method

1. Prepare the asparagus, carrot and courgette by cutting into long thin strips and place in a large mixing bowl.

2. Heat the oil in a small frying pan until hot and fry the shallot slices over a high heat until the y are golden brown and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Then add the garlic to the oil and fry until crisp, remove and drain on kitchen paper

3. Make the dressing by whisking all the ingredients together, then pour over the vegetables and toss to mix and arrange on a serving plate.

4. Scatter over the crispy fried shallot and garlic, followed by the mint and chilli and serve immediately.

Asparagus, smoked salmon & horseradish filo ‘cigars’.

Serves 4

Preparation: 20 minutes

Cook: 15 minutes

Ingredients

6 - 8 British asparagus spears
6 - 8 sheets Jus-Rol filo pastry
50g butter, melted
240g London cure smoked Scottish salmon
2 tbsp English Provender Company hot horseradish

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200°c/gas 6.

2. Blanch the asparagus in boiling water for 3 minutes, drain and refresh under cold running water. Set aside.

3. Cut the sheets of filo in half lengthways to give you long strips and keep covered until you are ready to use them to prevent them drying out.

4. Cut the smoked salmon into long strips, roughly the length of the asparagus spear – don’t worry if you can’t get long enough pieces, its fine to patch it together.

5. Working with one piece of filo at a time (keep the rest covered up), brush one side with butter. Lay a strip of smoked salmon at one end of the pastry, spread it with a little horseradish and top with a piece of asparagus. Roll up the filo sheet around the salmon and asparagus to give you a ‘cigar’ shape. Repeat until you have used all the ingredients.

6. Lay the ‘cigars’ on a baking sheet and brush with a little more butter and bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until the pastry is golden and crisp. Allow to cool a little before eating as the asparagus will be very hot!

Asparagus Ice Cream & Smoked Salmon Toasts

Serves 4

Preparation: 30 minutes

Cook: 15- 20 minutes, plus chilling

Ingredients

For the ice cream:
1 bunch British asparagus spears
500ml whole milk
Zest of 1 lemon
4 egg yolks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the toasts:
2 slices white bread, toasted
150g smoked salmon
1 egg, beaten
1tbsp cornflour
1tbsp chive, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2tbsp sesame seeds
sunflower or groundnut oil for deep frying

Method

1. Prepare the asparagus by chopping it into 1cm pieces, leaving the tips a little longer.

2. Bring the milk to a gentle simmer in a saucepan and add the lemon zest and the chopped asparagus, reserving a few of the tips to use as a garnish. Poach the asparagus in the milk for about 5 minutes, or until tender. Turn off the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.

3. Whilst the asparagus is infusing in the milk begin to make the smoked salmon toasts by finely chopping the salmon and mixing in a bowl with the egg, flour, chives and salt and pepper.

4. Cut the crusts from the toasted bread and cut each slice into 2 triangles. Spread the salmon mixture over one side and dip in sesame seeds. Chill in the fridge until you are ready to eat the ice cream.

5. Returning to the ice cream, pour the milk and asparagus into a liquidiser, add the egg yolks and process until smooth. Return to the pan and heat very gently, stirring all the time, until the sauce has thickened. Season generously and pour into a bowl and chill.

6. Once the asparagus sauce has chilled churn it in an ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Freeze until required.

7. When the ice is made finish the salmon toasts by heating the oil in a large saucepan until hot. You can test if its hot enough by frying a cube of bread in the oil - it should turn golden brown in a minute. Once t he oil is hot as the salmon toasts, sesame side down and fry for 2-3 minutes or until crisp and golden. Remove carefully and drain on kitchen paper.

8. Cook the reserved asparagus tips in boiling water until tender and drain well.

9. Arrange a couple of scoops of ice cream in a pretty dish and top with a smoked salmon toast and a tip of hot asparagus.

Asparagus, red bream & new potatoes cooked en papillote with Noilly Prat & tarragon

Serves 4

Preparation: 10 minutes

Cook: 25-30 minutes

Ingredients

400g new potatoes, sliced into wedges
300g bunch British asparagus spears, cut in ½
4 fillets meaty white fish, such as red bream or hake
8 large sprigs fresh tarragon
180ml Noilly Prat (or other white vermouth)
25g butter, cut into 4 cubes
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
4 large circles of baking parchment
English Provender Company garlic mayonnaise (Aioli) to serve (optional)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas 6.

2. Put the potato wedges in a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Boil for 10 minutes, or until just tender then drain thoroughly.

3. Lay out the circles of baking parchment and place a little pile of potatoes in the centre of each circle.

4. Lay the tarragon sprigs on top, followed by the fish fillets and finally the asparagus.

5. Add a cube of butter to each parcel, and season generously with sea salt & freshly ground black pepper.

6. To fold up the parchment circles into bags, start from one end and crimp the two sides together as if you are making a pasty until you get to nearly half way. The do the same starting at the other end, leaving you a small hole in the top.

7. Carefully pour 3 tablespoons Noilly Prat into the hole, then finish sealing the bag. Repeat with the remaining bags. Place the bags on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the asparagus is tender and the fish is cooked.

8. Place each bag on a plate, and serve with a generous dollop of garlic mayonnaise.

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