Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Welcoming in the British Asparagus Season

It’s that time of year again! Asparagus tips are peeking through the soil in fields all over the UK. I absolutely adore asparagus; their firm elegant stems, their earthy colour and their mellow flavour. I sometimes wonder if my enjoyment is exaggerated by their fleeting season. It seems that it flies by though the supermarkets are keen to replace their space on the shelves with dread Peruvian tips.

We spotted the first bunches in the supermarket about a week or so ago and since then, we’ve been feasting on it. The Boy’s Mum has an asparagus patch which is yielding tall, delicious tips too. I’m determined to make the most of the asparagus season while it’s upon us and can’t seem to get enough of the lovely stuff. It’s so versatile; poach it, steam it, roast it, griddle it, stir fry it – there are so many options!

British asparagus is one of the few vegetables that has stayed strong in recent years while the production and popularity of other vegetables is moving further and further away from the UK. British asparagus is available in most supermarkets now that the season is in full swing and there are offers on so make the most of its abundance and price. There are pick your own places and local sellers dotted all over the place so keep your eyes peeled while you’re out and about in the countryside.

Start your sparrow-grass feasting with a simple boiled (goose) egg for dunking or this creamy fresh risotto...

Asparagus, Pea & Leek Risotto
Serves two

1 small leek, trimmed, washed and finely sliced
125g (or one pack) fresh asparagus stems
100g frozen peas
1 garlic clove, sliced
150g risotto rice (I used arborio)
100ml dry vermouth or white wine
¼ vegetable or chicken stock cube dissolved in 900ml water
Or 900ml fresh vegetable or chicken stock
30g finely grated parmesan or mature cheese
25g unsalted butter
30g soft goats cheese

- Sweat the leek with a little sunflower oil for about five minutes until tender.
- Meanwhile, in a separate pan, warm your stock until it is just off simmering then prepare the asparagus by bending each stem and allowing them to snap where the tender part ends. Add the woody ends to your stock. Trim the top inch or two of tip off the stem then chop the remaining stem into 5mm pieces.
- By now, the leeks should be nicely softened. Add the garlic and stir through the leeks then add the rice, stirring again until it is combined.
- Allow the rice to cook for a few minutes, stirring it to encourage it to absorb the juices from the leeks.
- Add the vermouth and stir again until it is absorbed
- Add half of the stock - one ladle at a time, stirring it in until it is almost completely absorbed.
- Toss in the chopped asparagus stems and continue to add the rest of the stock as before.
- When all of the stock has been added, test the rice to see if it is tender. If not, add a ladle of hot water as before and continue until the rice is just soft. Although the rice should be thick and the grains plump, the risotto itself should have a soft and loose consistency.
- Add the asparagus tips and frozen peas allowing them to soften in the risotto for a few minutes.
- Stir in the butter and parmesan (or mature cheese) to give a creamy glossy taste and texture. Season with salt and pepper.
- Serve topped with crumbled goats cheese.

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