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British Asparagus

We are well and truly into the British Asparagus season (a culinary calendar highlight, running form May-June). Known as ‘The Miracle Vegetable’ because it contains vitamins A, C and E, folic acid, fibre, iron, prebiotics and potassium – it’s great for our immune systems, hearts, skin, hair, nails and apparently our love lives (it contains some other magic that I won’t even attempt to try and explain).

In addition to asparagus being fantastic for your mind, body and soul, it’s also really versatile when it comes to cooking. You can boil it (very lightly, then serve it coated in butter), you can bake it, sauté it, deep-fry it, griddle it…the list is endless.

The downside to this delicious ingredient is that the season is short lived, so without further ado, why not try asparagus, tomato and brie tarts – perfect for a quick lunch or a starter as part of a dinner party? Or asparagus and crab linguine with lemon, chilli and basil – this is a favourite in our house for a Friday night dinner, enjoyed with a nice bottle of white wine? Or asparagus tempura – delicious for starters and pre-dinner nibbles? Or finally asparagus, parma ham and soft-boiled egg salad – a perfect summery supper where the asparagus is griddled giving it a mild smokey flavour? Whichever you choose (I suggest them all overt the next few weeks) they are all fantastic and simple to do.

Now, before you dash off down to the shop to grab the ingredients, I have a few things to look out for when buying your asparagus: avoid any stems that are discoloured, scarred or wrinkled – go for the nice bright green bundles, don’t go for any stalks that are turning slimy at the tips and make sure the tips/buds are tightly knit.

If you want to find out more about British asparagus, visit www.british-asparagus.co.uk.

Enjoy and happy asparagus season.

ASPARAGUS, TOMATO AND BRIE TARTS

Makes 4

375g ready rolled puff pastry

4 heaped teaspoons of sun-dried tomato paste

1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp milk (egg wash)

2 bunches of asparagus

1 tbsp olive oil

Around 200g French Brie, thinly sliced

Pre-heat the oven to 220C/200C fan ovens/gas 7

Unroll the pastry and cut it into 4 individual rectangles. Sit them on an oiled baking sheet and then score a border of about 5mm around the edge of each one. Prick the pastry several times with a fork inside the border.

Place a heaped teaspoon of the sun-dried tomato paste in the middle of each piece of pastry and spread evenly over the surface.

Trim the asparagus to fit within the pastry border, and then toss it in the olive oil to coat lightly. Season with salt and pepper. Sit in an even row on top the sun-dried tomato paste. Brush the pastry borders with the egg wash and place in the oven for 8 minutes.

After the 8 minutes is up, the slices of brie can be sat on top of the asparagus. Return the tarts to the oven for a further 2 minutes or so, until the puff pastry is golden and the brie has just melted on top of the asparagus.

Remove from the oven and serve hot or cold.

PS…

These tarts are delicious served with a simple salad of rocket leaves, toasted pinenuts and red onion, tossed in lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.

ASPARAGUS AND CRAB LINGUINE WITH LEMON, CHILLI AND BASIL

Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a starter

200-300g linguine

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 bunch of asparagus (check 1 bunch weight)

1 red chilli, seeded and sliced

2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced

3 ripe tomatoes, quartered, de-seeded and diced

100g white crab meat, fresh or frozen

Grated zest and juice of ½ lemon

1 small bunch of basil leaves, finely sliced

Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and cook the linguine until al dente.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Cut the asparagus into smaller pieces, about 3-4cm long. Add to the pan, along with the chilli and garlic, and fry for about 3-4 minutes until the asparagus is becoming tender.

Increase the heat and add the diced tomatoes to the pan. Fry for just a minute or so before adding the crab meat, lemon zest and lemon juice. Toss around until the crab is heated through. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper before tossing with the cooked linguine, basil and the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil. Serve straight away.

PS…

This can also be served as a cold pasta salad. Use some penne rather than linguine and leave to cool. Add the basil once cool.

ASPARAGUS TEMPURA


Serves 4 as a starter, side dish or snack

Sunflower or vegetable oil, for deep-frying

50g plain flour, plus 3 tablespoons extra for dusting

1 teaspoon cornflour

100ml chilled sparkling or soda water

2 bunches of asparagus

For the dipping sauce

Half a red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped

2 tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 small clove of garlic, peeled and crushed

2 tsp caster sugar

1 tsp freshly grated root ginger

2 tsp chopped coriander

To prepare the dipping sauce, simply mix all of the ingredients together and leave for about 30 minutes for all of the flavours to infuse.

Pour enough oil into a wok, large pan or deep-fat fryer to come halfway up the pan. If you have a thermometer, heat to 180ºC.  If not, check the oil is at the right temperature by dropping in a 2 to 3cm cube of bread. It should be golden and crisp in just 1 minute.

Place the flour, cornflour and good pinch of salt in a bowl and mix in the soda water with a chopstick or the handle of a wooden spoon until it is just combined. The mixture should be thin and slightly lumpy, which will give you a lovely crisp batter.

When the oil is ready, trim the ends off the asparagus, rinse under the tap, dust in the 3 tablespoons of flour, and then briefly dip into the batter. Drop straight into the oil, a few at a time, for just 1 to 2 minutes until pale golden and crisp.

Drain on kitchen paper and serve straight away with a dish of dipping sauce.

PS…

A quick alternative to the dipping sauce recipe is to simple serve a dish of soy sauce to dip the tempura into.

ASPARAGUS, PARMA HAM AND SOFT HARD-BOILED EGG SALAD


Serves 4

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

2 tsp runny honey

1 tsp Dijon or wholegrain mustard

4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

400g Jersey royal potatoes

4 free-range or organic eggs

2 bunches of Asparagus

8 slices of parma ham

1 bunch of spring onions, thinly sliced

½ punnet salad cress

First of all, make the dressing and keep to one side. Place the red wine vinegar, honey and mustard in a small bowl and gradually whisk in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Cut the potatoes in half or quarters of they are particularly large and cook in boiling salted water for about 10 minutes, or until tender.

While the potatoes are cooking, bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil. Place in the eggs, and bring back to the boil. Cook for 7 minutes before draining the eggs from the water and running under cold water for a couple of minutes to stop them cooking further. Remove from the water and then remove the shells.

Pre-heat a griddle pan. Trim the ends off the asparagus and toss in a little olive oil. Place on the grill pan and cook for about 5 minutes until they are tender and have a few grill lines marking them. You may need to do this in a couple of batches depending on the size of your pan.

To cook the parma ham, tear or cut each piece into thick strips and also cook on the griddle pan until golden and crisp.

Arrange the warm potatoes, asparagus, parma ham, spring onions, and salad cress onto plates. Cut the eggs into quarters and sit on top of the salad. Whisk the dressing to combine, if it has separated, and then drizzle over the plates of salad. Serve straight away.

MOULES MARINIERE

After just returning from a fantastic family holiday in France, I am still on holiday mode so thought I would cook a quick easy supper tonight that was a favourite on holiday. If you want some more holiday food ideas, there are plenty more of my recipes at Villarenters.

MOULES MARINIERE

Even though this dish originates from Northwest France, it is such a simple, classic French recipe that uses so few ingredients, yet delivers such a fabulous flavour. Enjoy for lunch or dinner with plenty of crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Serves 4

large knob of butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2kg mussels

½ large glass dry white wine (about 125ml)

½ large wine glass of cream (about 125ml)

small bunch of parsley, chopped

crusty bread, to serve

Heat a large pan over a low-medium heat and melt the butter. Gently cook the onion and garlic for about 10 minutes until it is lovely and soft, stirring frequently.

Meanwhile, clean the mussels by washing well under cold running water, discarding any open shells that don’t close when tapped. Pull out and fibrous beards.

Increase the heat and add the mussels and wine to the pan. Cover with a lid and cook for 4-5 minutes, giving the pan a good shake every now and then.

Add the cream, chopped parsley and season with salt, a good twist of black pepper. Return to the simmer for a minute or so, and then remove from the heat.

Spoon into bowls and serve with crusty bread, making sure you don’t try and eat any mussels that have remained closed.

How about some wine to go with this, as chosen by Susie Barrie from Winchester Wine School.

Wine Option One:

The best producers in Burgundy’s Maconnaîs region produce outstanding Chardonnay wines with delicious, minerally flavours and a rounded, creamy texture – ideal for the earthy mussels, garlic and cream in this dish.

Wine Option Two:

If you’re in the mood for something altogether fruitier and easier-drinking, try these mussels with a ripe and peachy, southern French Viognier.

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