It’s officially British asparagus season! Just make sure you grab a few bundles and make the most of it whilst it’s here. Easy to cook, the British asparagus is delicious served simply. You can boil it, steam it, grill, roast and even BBQ. The British asparagus is in season from the end of April until June. Chefs consider the British harvest to be the best in the world.
One of the main producers in the UK is Wye Valley Produce a grown by fourth-generation farmers, by the Chinn family, in the Wye Valley, near Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire. They planted their first Asparagus crop in the Spring of 2003, and the Wye Valley brand has since expanded to include rhubarb, blueberries and green beans. The light, sandy soil and south-facing slopes of the meandering Wye Valley capture the earliest spring sunlight and create a microclimate that is perfectly formed to produce some of the earliest, and the best, produce in the UK.
Asparagus, or garden asparagus, folk name sparrow grass, scientific name Asparagus officinalis, is a perennial flowering plant species in the genus Asparagus. Its young shoots are used as a spring vegetable. A distant cousin of the onion, the asparagus is also a member of the Liliaceae family. Its history goes back as far as that of the leek and has been consumed for over 2000 years. The plant originated in the eastern Mediterranean countries and traces of wild varieties have been discovered in Africa. Archaeologists believe that it was also cultivated in Egypt.
In ancient Greece, asparagus was considered to be a plant with sacred and aphrodisiac virtues and the Greeks were interested in its biological and pharmaceutical qualities.
Hippocrates, the ancient Greek doctor, used asparagus to treat diarrhoea and pains of the urethra. This plant, in fact, contains asparagines which is known for its diuretic properties. The Romans, for their part, appreciated the plants’ gastronomic qualities. They ate it as a starter or as a vegetable accompanying fish. During the Middle Ages, the Asparagus was largely forgotten but continued to be cultivated by the Arabs. Caesar’s legions returning from the Orient brought the asparagus back to Europe.
Starting in the 16th century, asparagus was served in the royal courts of Europe and in the 17th century, it was cultivated in France for Louis XIV who was, very fond of it. At that time, according to the records, it was the size of a swan’s feather and was grown solely for the requirements of the nobility. Only in the 18th century did the asparagus make its appearance on the local marketplace and in numerous culinary works.
British asparagus is packed full of goodness, so not only are you getting a delicious vegetable but a healthy one too:
– Eating asparagus promotes healthy bacteria in the large intestine and can help reduce bloating
– Asparagus contains vitamin K, essential for healthy blood clotting
– It is a rich source of vitamin C, which boosts your immune system
– Asparagus is a mild diuretic and is believed to help detoxify the body
British asparagus spring pasta
A super quick and easy dish for those mid-week meals that require little preparation time.
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 15-20 minutes
400g British asparagus
170g frozen peas
350g pappardelle pasta
2 knobs of butter
1tbsp olive oil
4 scallions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
200ml crème Fraiche
A handful of chopped mint
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
What to do:
Put a large pan of water onto boil for the pappardelle. While you wait, trim the ends off the asparagus and chop into 2-3cm pieces. Once the water has come up to boil, blanch the asparagus and the peas for 2-3 minutes and then place in a bowl of ice-cold water
Keep the pan of water on the hob and boil the pasta according to pack instructions.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a frying pan, then add the olive oil, shallots and garlic and gently fry for 5 minutes until soft. Add the crème fraiche to the pan and stir to gently warm through making sure it doesn’t split. Add the fresh chopped mint, asparagus and peas to the pan and stir through along with a little of pasta water to loosen the mixture up.
Once the pasta is cooked, drain well and add to the sauce. Season to your liking and then serve with a grating of parmesan, a sprinkle of more fresh mint and a drizzle of olive oil.
(Recipe from the British Asparagus Association)
Asparagus risotto with wild garlic pesto
Risotto makes a lovely light supper, and shows off the asparagus’s delicate flavour. You could use a shop-bought pesto if you want to save on time or can’t get hold of wild garlic.
200g asparagus spears, woody ends snapped off, cut into 3cm lengths
1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
400g risotto rice
125ml white wine
1.2 litres hot vegetable stock
60g spinach leaves, finely shredded
80g Parmesan, grated, plus shavings to garnish
salt and pepper
20g pea shoots, to garnish
For the wild garlic pesto (or use 150g regular pesto,shop-bought or homemade)
130g wild garlic leaves
1 garlic clove, sliced
130ml olive oil
3 tbsp dry-roasted pumpkin seeds
25g Parmesan, grated
What to do:
First make the pesto: mix half the wild garlic leaves with the garlic clove and olive oil and leave to stand for 10 minutes, then add to a food processor or blender and blitz to a smooth paste. Add the remaining leaves with the pumpkin seeds and Parmesan and pulse for a few seconds until you have a coarse pesto. Taste and season as necessary.
Now make the risotto. Melt half the butter and the olive oil in a widebased pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook over a low-medium heat until softened but not coloured. Add the rice and cook slowly, stirring for 5 minutes. Pour in the white wine and reduce until the liquid has evaporated. Gradually add the hot stock, a ladleful at a time, stirring constantly. When most of the stock is absorbed, add the asparagus and spinach with the remaining butter and grated Parmesan. Stir in the wild garlic pesto and season to taste.
Serve, garnished with pea shoots, Parmesan shavings and a drizzle of olive oil.
Bring a wide pan of water to the boil, add the asparagus and simmer for about 5 minutes, then drain and plunge quickly into iced water and drain again well. Leave to cool.
(Recipe from the book: ‘Nurture: Notes and Recipes from Daylesford Farm’ by Carole Bamford, published by Square Peg).
Roasted asparagus with spring onions and goat’s cheese
We serve this dish as a starter in the Field Kitchen. It is simplicity itself and makes a perfect lunch with a few slices of chewy, crusty bread and butter. We use a goat’s cheddar as it lends itself well to grating, crumbling or shaving, but a younger, fresher goat’s cheese will still hit the mark.
1 bunch of asparagus
4–6 spring onions, depending on size
50g goat’s cheddar
salt and black pepper
What to do:
Heat the oven to 210°C/Gas 7. Snap the tough lower stalks from the asparagus then split any larger stems in half lengthways so that they are all roughly the same size. Toss the asparagus in a baking dish in just enough oil to coat. Season with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for 8–12 minutes (depending on thickness) until just tender. Trim the spring onions; nip off the root, cut off the darker ends and peel away the first layer of skin. Slice very finely at an angle. Break up the slices with your fingertips. As soon as you take the asparagus out of the oven, squeeze the lemon juice over it and toss the spring onions through. Pile on to a plate and crumble, grate or shave the cheese on top.
(Recipe from riverford.co.uk/recipes)
One of the simplest, and most delicious, ways to cook asparagus is to roast it in the oven.
2 cloves of garlic (left whole)
Salt & pepper
What to do:
- Preheat your oven to 180 ºC
- Rinse your asparagus spears and if the ends are woody, cut them off
- Line a roasting tin with foil or baking paper and arrange the asparagus on the lined tin
- Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Throw in a couple of whole garlic cloves for extra flavour
- Put the tray in the oven and roast for approximately 10 minutes, depending on how thick your spears are
- To serve, squeeze over some lemon juice and top with shavings of fresh Parmesan
(Recipe from the Wye Valley website).