Nothing is more symbolic of the start of spring than this beautifully crisp and plump green (or white) spear – the humble asparagus.
Though we wouldn’t like to boast, the British asparagus is a real point of pride – with the official season kicking off next week on St George’s Day, Sunday, April 23rd, until June. It’s a short season – much like spring itself – so we’re out to make the very most of it.
Inspired by the latest and greatest in the world of food trends, there’s a real sense of exciting currency about our global asparagus recipes: exploring this jewel of British springtime through an international lens.
Our Italian spring dish is a riff on the very traditional vitello tonnato: cold sliced veal on top of an anchovy paste. I distinctly remember discovering this dish in Positano years ago, and can recall with startling clarity the taste, and my almost euphoric appreciation of this cold, refreshing dish and how it perfectly matched our appetites on that hot Mediterranean spring day.
The heat and vibrancy of Mexico has recently managed to spread its allure far beyond the Americas. Huevos Rancheros is a classic brunch favourite, but here we give it a fresh twist by making grilled asparagus the star – alongside rich, unctuous, “give-me-more” black beans.
For something altogether simpler we look to the Orient, with asparagus, poached egg and miso butter making a light spring supper or snack. And for another dish, the fiery Korean bean paste gochujang helps to make an easy and effortlessly current sharing starter.
Meanwhile our European jaunt continues, with our Spanish-inspired BBQ platter with sun-drenched romesco, BBQ asparagus and on-trend charred calcots (or spring onions) begging to be shared.
I think our recipes are quite demonstrative of the versatility of this magnificent vegetable, and also our giddy excitement at the first chance to cook with them. So many of our vegetables in this country are shipped in, so it’s a real novelty to be able to use something that is so spankingly fresh and made in our own backyard. And we like the contrast achieved by mixing this source of domestic pride with a truly international palette.
So, whether yours is crisp green or velvety white, steamed, seared, grilled or gracefully charred, be sure to embrace the start, and length of, our asparagus season – and these first bursts of sunlight too.
At the start of asparagus season, the ends are usually lovely and tender, but if they are looking a bit woody break them off by bending the asparagus spears until they snap at their natural breaking point. Trim off any uneven ends with a sharp knife and for an elegant finish peel the thin tougher skin on the lower part of the stem with a vegetable peeler. Then follow one of the following methods:
Blanch & refresh:
Plunge your prepared asparagus spears into a pan of boiling water. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until tender. Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon and place directly in a bowl of ice water.
Place your griddle pan over a high heat and when heated through add the asparagus spears, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Cook for 1-2 minutes, turning occasionally until charred with grill marks.
Grilled Asparagus Huevos Rancheros with All the Trimmings
16 x asparagus spears, blanched and griddled
4 x Burford Brown eggs
1 x avocado, peeled and sliced into 4
Sour cream to garnish
Soft tortillas, warmed through to serve
1/2 small (200g) can chipotle chillies in adobo
(if not available use 1 tbsp each ground cumin and ground coriander)
2 tablespoons olive oil
120 grams pancetta cubed
1 x carrots, peeled and chopped
1 x onions, peeled and chopped
1 x celery stalk chopped
2 x bay leaves
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
4 x garlic cloves, minced
120ml red wine
2 x jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped
230g dry black beans (pre-soaked overnight in cold water)
1.2 litre chicken stock
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 x bay leaves
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Sherry vinegar, to taste
10 x red vine tomatoes and 5 yellow tomatoes, deseeded and diced
2 tbsp of coriander, picked, washed and coarsely chopped
2 x banana shallots, finely chopped
1 x pinch of sugar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
8 tbsp lime juice
Sea salt to taste
1.) Empty the can of chills into a blender or food processor. Purée until smooth, scrape into a container, and set aside. Put on a kettle of water to boil, and keep hot.
2.) In a large, heavy pot, heat olive oil over medium heat until simmering.
3.) Add pancetta. Let cook until fat is rendered, add onions and garlic, celery and carrots, and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned: 5-8 minutes.
4.) Pour in wine and let simmer until pan is almost dry and vegetables and pancetta are coated.
5.) Add jalapeños and cook, stirring, just until softened, for about 2 minutes.
6.) Push the vegetables out to the edges of the pot and dollop 2 teaspoons of chipotle purée in the centre. Let fry for a minute and then stir together with the vegetables.
7.) Add beans, stock, oregano and bay leaves. Stir, bring to a boil, and let boil 10-15 minutes.
8.) Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, partly covered, stirring occasionally and adding hot water as needed to keep the beans liquid and runny, not sludgy.
9.) Continue cooking until beans are just softened and fragrant, about 1-2 hours. Add salt and pepper and keep cooking until beans are soft.
10.) Purée half the beans in a food blender, leaving some whole for texture contrast. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary, adding sherry vinegar for acidity and fresh coriander.
1.) Heat olive oil in a frying pan until very hot, then add eggs and fry until lovely and frazzled around the edges.
1.) Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Check for seasoning, adjust as necessary.
1.) Combine 4 x asparagus spears, ¼ avocado, salsa Mexicana, two fried eggs, soft tortillas and sour cream on the side.
Asparagus, Poached Egg & Miso Butter
12 x asparagus spears
4 x Burford Brown eggs
125g soft unsalted butter
2 x tablespoons of white miso
Freshly ground black pepper
Shiso cress for garnish
1.) To make the miso butter – cream the soft butter with white miso and season with freshly ground black pepper. Roll into a log in plastic wrap and refrigerate for cutting into slices later.
2.) Poach the eggs.
3.) Add a small dash of vinegar to a pan of steadily simmering water.
4.) Crack eggs individually into a tea cup.
5.) Create a gentle whirlpool in the water to help the egg white wrap around the yolk.
6.) Slowly tip the egg into the water, white first. Leave to cook for three minutes.
7.) Remove with a slotted spoon, cutting off any edges using the edge of the spoon.
8.) Drain onto kitchen paper.
9.) Re-heat the cooked asparagus in a pan of hot water for 30 seconds.
10.) Serve a slice of miso butter on top of hot asparagus and garnish with shiso cress.
Chilled Asparagus with Gochujang Mayo
16 x asparagus spears
300g good quality whole-egg mayonnaise
2 tbsp Gochujang paste
Juice of ½ a lime
Toasted sesame seeds for garnish
Splash of sesame oil or olive oil
1.) Combine mayonnaise, gochujang paste and lime juice in a bowl and chill.
2.) Place 4 x chilled asparagus spears on a plate with a spoonful of gochujang mayo.
3.) Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and a drizzle of sesame or olive oil.
BBQ Asparagus with a Sassy Sauce Romesco
16 x spears of chargrilled asparagus
100g whole blanched almonds
55g shelled hazelnuts
4 x dried noras peppers, or ordinary dried peppers or 1 x small dried red chilli, crumbled
Half a dried guindilla pepper
1 x whole head of garlic
2 x marinda tomato
6 tbsp olive oil
55g stale white bread
140g piquillo peppers from a jar or fresh piquillo peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded
1-1.5 tbsp sherry vinegar
40 x strands saffron, infused in 8 tbsp boiling water
1/2 tsp sweet smoked spanish paprika
1.) Preheat oven to 350F/180C/Gas mark 4.
2.) Break open the dried peppers and discard their seeds. Crumble a little further in a small bowl and cover with boiling water.
3.) Place the almonds and hazelnuts on a tray, and dry roast in the top of the oven for about 20 minutes or until light golden-brown. Remove and cool.
4.) Increase the oven temperature to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.
5.) Place the whole head of garlic and the tomatoes on a baking tray and roast in the oven until cooked through and soft, about 40 minutes.
6.) Take out of the oven, slip the garlic cloves out of skin and put in food processor with roasted tomatoes, piquillo peppers, dried soaked peppers, bread, almonds and hazelnuts, and blitz until you have a coarse paste.
7.) Add a splash of sherry vinegar, more olive oil, saffron and smoked paprika. Blitz again and taste for seasoning. If the sauce is very thick, add a little water and/or more olive oil.
1.) Serve the chargrilled asparagus with a bowl of sauce romesco and plenty of bread as part of informal sharing first course or rustic light lunch. Perfect with a plate of Pata Negra ham, some young broad beans still in the pod and a hunk of Manchego cheese.
Poached Asparagus, Tonnato Dressing, Soft Boiled Egg, Anchovy & Capers
16 x spears of white and green asparagus
4 x lightly boiled Burford Brown eggs, 5.5 minutes, peeled and halved
1 tbsp of Capers
1 x tin or Ortiz Anchovies
Pea shoots for garnish
250g Ortiz Tuna
4 x anchovy fillets
Juice of a lemon
Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt to taste
1.) Drain tuna and blitz with anchovy and juice of a lemon. Take out of the food processor and add mayonnaise until you have a smooth sauce.
2.) Season to taste,
1.) Place the tonnato dressing on a plate, then arrange asparagus on top, garnish with boiled egg, anchovy, capers and pea shoots.