The Green, Green Grass Of Home

29th April 2011

British Asparagus is acknowledged by chefs as the best in the world, so make the most of it during its very short season. Here we have new recipes from chefs Tiffany Goodall and Gizzi Erskine, and first, some of the most common myths about selecting, preparing and eating asparagus are unpicked…

Myth: Asparagus is available all year round

Truth: The true British asparagus season is very short, lasting for about eight weeks from late-April to mid-June. Imported asparagus is available from different parts of the world all year round, but British asparagus has unbeatable flavour and freshness.

Myth: Asparagus with thicker stalks are less tender

Truth: Thick and thin stalks are simply different varieties. Try using the thinner variety for vegetable side dishes and quiches, and save the thicker spears for roasting in the oven or adding to pasta and risotto dishes.

Myth: Asparagus is complicated to prepare

Truth: Nonsense. One of the simplest ways to prepare asparagus is to steam for around 3-4 minutes until just tender and toss with a knob of butter, a little grated lemon zest (if you like citrus flavours) and a light sprinkle of sea salt. The asparagus can be cut into 2-inch size pieces or left whole for steaming. Then just pick up with your fingers and enjoy!

Another simple favourite is to submerge in a large pan of boiling water for 3-5 minutes (depending on the thickness of the spears), while in the meantime cooking a soft boiled egg. Simply dunk the cooked spears in the runny egg yolk… bliss.

Myth: You need to tie asparagus bundles with string to boil or steam it

Truth: There is no need to tie asparagus spears with string or bind them together with elastic bands. While it may help you retrieve the cooked asparagus quicker from the saucepan, it is certainly not a necessity.

Myth: You should snap the asparagus spear in the middle before cooking

Truth: The story goes that by snapping the spear at the base you will remove the very toughest part of the stalk. In fact, that’s not necessarily true, as it won’t always snap in the ‘right place’ and you may end up wasting too much. If you’re preparing a very smooth soup or sauce, by all means snap away but otherwise, there’s no point.

Myth: Wine does not taste good with asparagus

Truth: If you choose carefully you can find a delicious wine that will complement most asparagus dishes. Fruity wines tend not to go well with asparagus and can taste rather metallic. As a rule, rosés and wines with oaky or tannic elements are best avoided here. Instead, try to enjoy your asparagus with a wine that doesn’t conflict with its ‘green flavour’: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, White Zinfandel, Beaujolais and Pinot Noir should all work very well.

Myth: Asparagus is prohibitively expensive

Truth: Growing asparagus is a labour of love and patience, and it can take up to three years for a first crop to be commercially ready. It may be a bit more expensive than other vegetables in the supermarket but this simply reflects the work that has gone into growing it. During the UK season you can find plenty of deals and if you go to a local farm shop, you can often pick up less perfect-looking specimens very reasonably!

Cook and food writer Tiffany Goodall is proud to be one of this year’s British Asparagus Ambassadors, and has created these two delicious recipes especially to promote this wonderful crop…

British Asparagus Tartlets With Goats' Cheese & Sun Dried Tomatoes

Serves 4
Prep: 10 minutes • Cooking: 15 minutes

1 tbsp flour • 375g ready rolled puff pastry • Half a bundle (approx. 125g) British asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces • Salt for seasoning • 3 tbsp sun dried tomatoes, roughly chopped, plus 1 tbsp oil from the jar • 125g goats' cheese, crumbled • 2 handfuls of rocket • Balsamic vinegar, to drizzle

1. Preheat the oven to 230°C.
2. Cut the pastry into 4 rectangles and place onto a floured baking tray. Score the edge of each rectangle with a sharp knife.
3. Mix the asparagus with the sun dried tomatoes and a little of their oil. Divide the asparagus and tomatoes between the 4 pastry rectangles and top each with goat's cheese.
4. Place in the oven for 12-15 minutes.
5. Remove from the oven. Toss the rocket in a little balsamic vinegar and place on top of the tartlets.

British Asparagus With Chorizo & Poached Egg

Serves 2
Prep: 5 minutes 8 Cooking: 10-12 minutes

A bundle (approx 250g) British asparagus • 1 tbsp olive oil 110g chorizo, sliced • 2 eggs • Handful chives, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 210°C
2. Place your British asparagus into a roasting dish, add the olive oil and place in the oven for 10-12 minutes.
3. In a hot frying pan add the slices of chorizo. Cook on both sides for 2
minutes until the paprika oil oozing out of the slices.
4. Meanwhile place a pan of boiling water on the hob and bring to a fast rolling boil. When you have 3 minutes to go before serving crack your 2 eggs into the boiling water and immediately lower the heat to low-medium for 2 minutes. Then turn the heat off completely.
5. Remove the British Asparagus from the oven and place on a serving dish, sprinkle over the hot chorizo slices, and with a slotted spoon add the 2 poached eggs.
6. Finally drizzle over the paprika oil and finish with the chives.

Food writer and chef Gizzi Erskine presented Channel 4’s Cook Yourself Thin, and co-wrote the book of the same title. Her British Asparagus recipes have a distinctly oriental flavour…

BBQ Rib eye with Grilled British Asparagus, Teriyaki & Togerashi

Serves 2
Prep: 10 minutes • Cooking: 15 minutes

For the Teriyaki sauce:
75ml soy sauce • 75ml mirin, Japanese sweet rice wine • 75ml sake • 1 tbsp sugar

For the rest: 2 x 150g rib eye steaks • 1 tbsp vegetable oil plus a dash more for cooking the British asparagus • sea salt and black pepper • 1 packet of British asparagus, trimmed of woody ends • a pinch of Togerashi seasoning (optional, you could use cayenne pepper) • White and black sesame seeds to serve

1 To make the sauce, combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Stir the mixture well. Put on medium heat and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for a couple minutes. Stop the heat and cool the mixture. It's now ready to use, but if you have any left you can store the sauce in a clean bottle in the fridge.
2 Heat a griddle pan until really hot and almost smoking. Rub the steaks with the oil, salt and pepper. Griddle for 2 minutes on each side so that they're medium rare. Leave to rest. While the beef is resting rub the British asparagus with a little oil then lay on the griddle and grill for 2-3 minutes, turning every now and then until they start to soften and have little char marks but still have 'bite'.
3 Split the asparagus between two plates. Carve the steaks into 1cm strips and lay on top of the asparagus pouring over the meat juices left from resting. Cover each steak with a few tablespoons of Teriyaki sauce, sprinkle with the Togerashi and sesame seeds.

British Asparagus, Chilli, Lemongrass & Lime Leaf Stir Fry with King Prawns

Serves 2
Prep: 15 minutes • Cooking: 12 minutes

Small knob of ginger, peeled & grated • 1 stalk of lemon grass, bashed and finely chopped • 4 lime leaves, thinly sliced • 4 tbsp fish sauce • 1-2 tbsp palm sugar or light muscavado sugar • 1 tbsp vegetable or groundnut oil • 10 raw king prawns, shells off but with tails on if you can • 1 small onion, cut into thick slices • 1-2 small red Thai birds eye chilli, finely chopped • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped • 4 spring onions, cut into thumb length pieces • 1 bundle (approx 250g) British asparagus, chopped in half lengthways then cut into thumb length pieces • Steamed Thai rice to serve • Fresh coriander and/or Thai basil to serve

1 Mix together the ginger, lemon grass, lime leaves, fish sauce and sugar and put to one side.
2 Meanwhile heat a wok on high and when it's really hot add in the oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add in the king prawns and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes until the prawns have gone pink with slightly golden edges. Remove with a slotted spoon.
3 Throw in the onion and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add the chilli, garlic and spring onion and stir-fry for a further 4 minutes until the onions have softened. Add the prawns back in and the British asparagus and stir fry for a further minute.
4 Finally pour over the sauce which was prepared earlier, and cook until the sauce becomes sticky (3 minutes).
5 Serve immediately, topped with the fresh herbs and with the Thai rice.

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