Three ways to enjoy British asparagus while its in season - recipes, food styling notes & wine pairing
Hi, how you doing? I love asparagus and creating (and eating) seasonal food is a must for me so during the lock down I'm even more determined to source and cook seasonal ingredients - sourced locally if possible of course. Enjoying good food and getting creative in the kitchen and with my camera is possibly the one thing keeping me sane at the moment!
British asparagus season is only a short one lasting just a few weeks in late April and May, sometimes edging into June, so you've gotta be ready with some tasty recipes up your sleeve. Especially as it deteriorates pretty quickly after picking - another reason British asparagus will arrive on your table fresher and tastier than what you can import from else where.
We all know the classics - asparagus and hollandaise is a firm favourite or simply steamed and dipped in butter and sea salt can be scoffed very frantically. But what about when you want to make more of a meal of it?
These are three of my favourite ways to enjoy asparagus as a spring starter or main meal. I can't help but include an egg dish - i just love eggs of any kind, a creamy puff pastry tart is always a good way to get my kids to enjoy different flavours and the scallop dish, well it's just divine and works as a starter or main if you add some buttery boiled potatoes or a green salad.
When shopping for your asparagus look for firm but tender stems with a vibrant green colour. The tips should be closed and it's best eaten the day you buy it if possible. If not, wrap some damp kitchen roll paper around the bottom of the stalks and it could stay fresh for a couple of days in the fridge.
Oh and we all know how to prep it right? Wash in cold water and snap off the bottom ends of the stalks - they should naturally snap rather than bend when nice and fresh! Also it helps to sort them into thickness so that you can boil or steam them all for the perfect amount of time (which isn't long at all!) - the thickest stalks going in first so they get a bit longer. (If you have an asparagus steamer that will help you cook the wider stalks more than the finer tips too!)
From a food styling point of view, you are best to undercook the asparagus - cook just enough for the colour to deepen a bit - and keep it in iced water until you're ready to shoot. The colour and texture will change quite quickly once plated so wait until the last minute to drop your asparagus into the shot - especially if you're shooting with studio lights that can be warm. I'll tell you how I've prepped the asparagus under each shot as we go.
So here are my 3 ways enjoy British asparagus. I must admit though, in the spirit of getting ahead with this post only one dish contains UK grown asparagus as I shot it last year - the other two I had to use imported asparagus to shoot in time to post this but they will be all the more delicious when I make them again with British varieties in a few weeks!
Recipe 1 - Asparagus, Ricotta and Herb Tart
Approx 16-20 asparagus stalks
Handful of small tomatoes
1 pack shop bought puff pastry (you won't use it all!)
1tbsp plain flour
1 lemon, zest and 1tsp juice
Handful finely chopped chives
Handful finely chopped parsley
1/2 handful finely chopped mint (or whatever herbs you have available and enjoy!)
Handful grated parmesan
Extra herbs to finish
Preheat your oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.
Roll out your pastry on a floured surface, place your trimmed asparagus on top and cut your pastry 1cm wider all round, giving a slim border.
Remove the asparagus and place the pastry on a non-stick baking tray or baking parchment on a normal tray. Prick the base all over with a fork and brush the edges of the pastry with beaten egg. Bake for 15 mins.
Meanwhile mix the herbs, lemon zest, ricotta, mascarpone and half the Parmesan in a bowl. Season well.
Quarter your tomatoes and toss in a bowl with the lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Remove the pastry from the oven and spread with the cheese mix. Place your asparagus as before, top with the tomatoes and scatter over the remaining Parmesan. Bake for another 15-20 mins.
Finish with a sprinkling of herbs and lemon zest.
For the food styling I didn't do anything different to the recipe for this one but I did get my shot set up as the tart was cooking and placed it in at the last minute. I also brushed the asparagus with a little olive oil so it catches the light nicely and looks juicy!
Recipe 2 - Charred Asparagus & Dippy Egg (Soft Boiled)
6 asparagus spears per person
2 large, free range eggs per person
This is perhaps more of an assembly than a recipe! The sweet soft yolk is perfect for dipping earthy asparagus and nutty parmesan.
Heat a griddle pan and set some boiling water rolling over a medium heat in a saucepan.
While you boil the eggs for 3 minutes (if large) char the asparagus on all sides, turning constantly in a hot, oiled griddle pan.
Serve immediately with salt and pepper, butter and parmesan to taste.
I think the best way to style this recipe is also the best way to cook it - on a hot pan, turning constantly to get good, fast colouring without overcooking. Just have your plate, egg cup etc all ready in place and your camera and lighting set ready to pop your food in and get that perfect dip and run of egg yolk! (And you might crack open a few eggs to get the perfect yolk and a neat lid if you want to include that!)
Recipe 3 - Scallops, pancetta and asparagus with brown butter parsley sauce
6 scallops (or more if you’re feeling generous!)
100g diced pancetta
½ cup dry white wine
12 asparagus spears
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
8 small caper berries, finely chopped
This all happens very quickly!
Heat the butter over a medium heat, watching it carefully until the milk solids separate and the liquid beneath turns brown. Sieve the solids off and put the browned butter to one side adding the parsley and capers.
Get your pan of boiling water or steamer ready to cook the asparagus.
Heat a dry, heavy-based or cast iron pan until hot.
Start your asparagus cooking.
In the dry pan, fry the pancetta for 2 minutes until it begins to release some fat, then add the scallops and fry for 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side. The pan must be hot enough to sear them before they dry out and try not to move them or they will break!
Remove the scallops and pancetta to your plates.
Deglaze the pan with white wine, keeping the pan hot while you scrape the tasty bits off the bottom and mix them into the wine as it reduces. As soon as the wine has reduced by half remove from the heat and add to the butter and herb mix.
We should be at around 5 minutes now!
Remove the asparagus from the pan and plate up with the scallops and pancetta.
Pour over the brown butter sauce and serve immediately.
For the photography purposes of this dish i undercooked the asparagus slightly and blanched them in iced water until i was ready with the pancetta and scallops.
Our friends at Darley Abbey wines have two fantastic wine recommendations for this dish.
If you are in the Derby area you can order these wines directly from Andy. Darley Abbey Wines is an independent wine merchant since 2007 with a bustling wine bar, bistro & speciality coffee house nestled away in a little corner of Derbyshire paradise, by the River Derwent on the UNESCO World Heritage site of Darley Abbey Mills.