Sunday 22 May 2011

April 2011: No apology for asparagus

I offer no apology for waxing lyrical yet again about the new season’s asparagus. But then I would never dream of buying the stuff when it is imported and therefore now is the time it should be welcomed into season by a fanfare of trumpets.

Once of course we had to wait until much later for the magic to begin but with today’s poly tunnel farming that is old hat. A bit of me, the traditional bit, would be quite happy to wait for the true season because forced crops are often disappointing but two weeks ago I walked into Truffles and there before me on the floor was a basket of paper wrapped bunches of asparagus proclaiming “grown by the Chin family in the Wye Valley.” Short stubby straight spears with pert tips and freshly cut stems – expensive yes – but unmistakeably delicious, unmistakably tender. I only had to look at it to know – and this kind of asparagus needs very little cooking and no frills. Simply snap off the ends plunge into simmering water (a frying pan is useful if the spears are long) and cook for a few minutes. Use the prongs of a fork to test for tenderness. Drain carefully and add melted butter, olive oil and Parmesan or grated bottarga or serve with a lightly boiled or poached egg and use the spears as soldiers, alternatively refresh in cold water and wrap in slices of cured ham, dress with vinaigrette or serve in a simple starter salad.

Here in the heart of the Wye Valley we grow the most wonderful asparagus and in Ross, shops such as Truffles and Spar stock it regularly through the season. I know one chef-patron working in Wales who drives here to the farm everyday to pick up his quota for the restaurant because if he buys it from his wholesaler in Wales it goes first to London and then back again before he can get his hands on it. The quality of asparagus depends so much on freshness.

As the season progresses try serving it in a risotto or with pasta. This is a favourite of mine.

500 g ridged pasta quills
250 g asparagus spears
4 eggs
125 ml single cream
3 tablespoons grated pecorino or parmesan cheese
Black pepper
50 g butter
Small bunch of flat leafed parsley finely chopped

Plunge the pasta quills into plenty of boiling salted water and cook until tender (see timing on packet)
Cook the asparagus as above and cut into 2-3 cm lengths.
Put the eggs in a large bowl (big enough to serve the pasta in) and beat lightly, add the cream, the cheese, plenty of black pepper and the butter.
Strain the pasta when cooked al dente and add to the dish containing the egg mixture, add the asparagus pieces and the chopped parsley, stir well and serve at once.

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