A month or so ago the first of the British asparagus hit my local greengrocers. Little bundles of the tufty spears piled high, all in need of a quick steam and toss with golden salted butter. All for the reasonable price of £4.20. I think not.
It’s something I’m yet to get my head around, paying such a premium for produce from our own country, when you can buy a pack from Peru or Mexico for a mere £2.
Where’s the logic in that?
I just had to practice my patience for a little longer, only a week or two, and now of course it will feature in every meal possible up until the end of June. I know it’s available to us year round, but when trying to eat seasonally there’s nothing more exciting than the first encounters of our British grown produce. It marks the new season, along with the newborn tiddly lambs and daffodils sprouting everywhere, asparagus means spring really does feel official.
It’s such a versatile veg too, and if you’ve never tried it, you’re missing out. Along with your buttered soldiers try some asparagus to dive in your dippy egg. The nooks and crannies in the spear grips onto that golden yolk, and not forgetting it’s one of your five-a-day already in the bag. The first arrivals tend to be thinner, perfect for serving simply with a crack of black pepper and sea salt. Shave with a speed peeler or mandolin (watch those digits!!!) and serve as a tangle in a salad. Towards the latter end of the season it starts to become woodier, so lends itself to being grilled or roasted for some charred tips and smoky edges sitting perfectly beside some protein like salmon, steak or chicken or in a big veggie bowl with a dip.
The week following Easter I spent some quality time with my mum, doing what we do best – coffee shop crawls and a bit of clothes shop perusing (the big venture for a dress for my mum for a wedding). The weather was a bit grim and grey but to make the most of a bad thing off we went out for a scone with clotted cream and raspberry jam and a pot of chamomile tea. The tea rooms we visited are set deep in the countryside, surrounded by rolling green hills, I cannot imagine how beautiful it would be on a bright sunny day. To kill two birds with one stone (so they say) we also went to a nearby farm where they have a shop selling all homemade produce which I’ve been meaning to visit for a good while (in the past I just sent my dad). A haven for homemade sausages, bacon and black pudding all using local, free range, rare-breed pork, smoked fish (all smoked themselves), eggs, jams, chutneys and smoked cheese. It really is in an old cow shed – as the name suggests – but there’s so many magical products nestled inside. I managed to bag a couple of boxes of eggs, all of which are mixed colours and sizes coming from the different breeds of chicken (and of course the yolks are golden), a couple of packets of sausages and some smoked peanut butter (I’m thinking sticky satay chicken wings or aubergines!). Sadly I missed out on the wild garlic pesto. I know, I’m annoyed too. I had dreams of smothering it over pasta with some roasted tomatoes, rocket and Parmesan. But it only means I have to go back soon. Not really sad about that. Not. At. All.
I had plans that night for a super chill meal for my mum and I. Ideas of a salad, but warm, hearty and full of veggies, felt necessary. Also I fancied a bit of stodge, so new season Jersey Royals were a no-brainer. The asparagus was roasted, and the potatoes boiled whole then both tossed in a nutty herby dressing whilst still warm to absorb the oils and flavour. The dressing was a kind of pesto/salsa verde mash up, loads of watercress, parsley, mint and dill, capers, lemon and toasted pistachios because you can’t have enough green. I reserved two of the asparagus spears and shaved them into thin ribbons, mixed with cress, watercress and some jammy yolked eggies, this truly was the ultimate spring salad.
Asparagus and Jersey Royal Spring salad
If you don’t have all the herbs for the dressing just use extra watercress and up the amounts of the ones you do have. Some wild garlic would be an excellent addition, some basil too – if it’s looking a bit sad. If you’re struggling to get hold of some asparagus, purple sprouting broccoli (broccoli rabe I think it’s called in America), tenderstem or your bog-standard broccoli would even do the trick at a push.
- Jersey royals – around 8 or 10 depending how hungry you are
- Bunch of asparagus
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 packet of cress
- 1/2 bag of watercress
- 1/2 bag of watercress
- Small handful dill
- Small handful parsley
- Small handful mint
- Fennel fronds (optional)
- 2 tbsp capers (in brine, rinse if in salt)
- Handful pistachios (without shells
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/2 Lemon
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Turn the oven to 180 C
- Wash the Jersey Royals and place in a pan of cold water with a big pinch of salt. Bring to the boil then turn down to bubble for around 20 to 30 mins until tender.
- Meanwhile boil the eggs. Bring a pan of water to a vigorous boil, add some salt, then dip the eggs in the water briefly, remove and then fully submerge and leave to cook for 7 minutes. When the timer is up, stick the eggs in ice cold water to stop them cooking further.
- Reserve two asparagus spears for later, and with the rest snap off any woody ends and put in a roasting tin with a drizzle of oil and some salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for around 10 to 15 minutes until tender and crisp on the edges.
- To make the dressing, finely chop the watercress and the herbs and place in a bowl. Next chop the capers and mix in with the herbs. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, add 2 tbsp of olive oil, the mustard and red wine vinegar and a little water to make a thick dressing, the same consistency of a pesto. Check for seasoning and add more lemon or vinegar if you think necessary.
- When the potatoes have cooked, drain the water and leave to steam dry for a minute or so. Slice them in half and place on a platter with the roast asparagus and half the dressing. Toss together until everything is coated.
- With the reserved asparagus get a speed peeler or mandolin and shave thinly, put on the platter along with the watercress and cress. Toss again and dot the remaining dressing all over.
- Crack the eggs and peel them, they should be cool enough to handle. Slice into quarters and place on top of the salad.
- Serve and enjoy!
If you’re ever in the Peak District area do make a visit to The Old Cow Shed in Chisworth and The Woodlands Tea Rooms in Charlesworth for a traditional afternoon tea or lunch using locally sourced produce.
I’d love to hear if you’ve managed to get your hands on some wild garlic or how you make the most of asparagus when it’s back in for the ever so short season.
All the love