The wait is over and chefs across Cornwall are rejoicing: the asparagus is ready!
Asparagus shouts of early summer. The sweet, tender spears are prized by food-lovers, desperate to get their hands on the first stems of the season. So exquisite you want to consume mounds of it, eaten with your fingers, butter dribbling down your chin. Gloriously green and deliciously decadent, it is also thought to be an aphrodisiac…
Cornwall’s mild climate means that our asparagus is some of the first to be ready and harvest runs from mid to late April until the end of June. Jax Buse has been growing her famous St Enodoc asparagus at Great Keiro Farm for over 20 years. The spears grow uncovered in sheltered fields close to the sea, where the salty sea breeze enhances the flavour of the tender stems. Jax supplies freshly cut asparagus to dozens of restaurants in the county, and further afield, often hand delivering within a few hours of harvest.
When it comes to cooking asparagus at home, the simpler the better. Like most vegetables, asparagus is delicious with bacon and cheese and has a particular affinity with eggs.
If you have a special tall, narrow saucepan all the better – the thicker bases can simmer in the water while the tender tops are steamed. Otherwise boil gently in a shallow pan of water and if the spears are thick at the bottom then you can peel them to ensure an even cooking time.
Dip the spears into a boiled egg, like soldiers. Wrap raw stalks in streaky bacon and bake for 10 minutes for a tasty canapé. Grill on a barbecue or griddle and add a squeeze of lemon juice, or top with lardons and parmesan in a salad. Try a quiche or risotto. And what could be a better breakfast than eggs Benedict – runny yolks oozing over the tender spears and crispy pancetta.
If that wasn’t enough, asparagus is super-healthy, with high levels of vitamins A, C and E, folic acid, dietary fibre, potassium and iron, is low in calories and cholesterol and is fat free (if you omit all the bacon, cheese and cream).
Paul Ainsworth has been eagerly anticipating the arrival of the first spears of Cornish asparagus for inclusion in his menu at Number 6 in Padstow. Here follows one of his favourite recipes, taken from The New West Country Cook Book by David Griffen.
DEXTER RUMP OF BEEF WITH ASPARAGUS AND CORNISH BLUE CHEESE BUTTER
SERVES 4 | PREP: 20-30 mins | COOKING: 45 mins, including resting
- Four 250g Dexter rump steaks trimmed of fat and gristle and at room temperature
- 6 large Maris Piper potatoes peeled and cut into chunky chips about 2cm x 8cm
- 16 spears of St Enodoc asparagus with woody ends removed
- 250g unsalted butter
- 100g Cornish blue cheese at room temperature
- sea salt and milled white pepper
- splash of sherry vinegar
- 50g flat leaf parsley chopped
- vegetable oil for the deep fat fryer
Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer to 120°C. Place the cut chips in the basket and blanch until they are completely soft. Remove them from the basket and drain on kitchen paper. Turn the fryer up to 180°C-200°C.
Soften the butter and mix it with the soft blue cheese. Season to taste and add the sherry vinegar and parsley. Place the butter on a sheet of cling film. Roll into a cylinder the size of a £2 coin and set the butter in the fridge.
Take a shallow, wide-bottom saucepan; add a little water and a knob of butter. Season with salt and pepper and add the asparagus to the pan. Shake the pan occasionally to roll the asparagus – the water and the butter will thicken and coat it. This process will take about 3 minutes. Leave the asparagus in the pan to keep warm.
Heat a large frying pan. It needs to get really hot and should accommodate the size of the steaks. Add a little vegetable oil to the pan when it starts to smoke. Season the steaks with salt and pepper and add carefully to the pan. Do not shake the pan or move the steaks until the first side is caramelised. Turn the steaks over and do the same again.
Add a little butter to the pan and allow it to turn nut brown. Baste the steak and cook according to preference – medium-rare should take about 4-5 minutes from the steak going into the pan.
Lift the steaks out and rest for at least 10 minutes on a rack with a plate underneath to catch any juices. After 5 minutes of resting, turn the steak over and rest for another 5 minutes.
Return the chips to the fryer and cook until golden and crisp. Drain, season and divide between the plates. Serve the asparagus next to the chips.
Slice a piece of the chilled butter on each steak. Warm the steaks through in either the oven or grill to lightly soften the butter. Serve immediately.
CORNISH ASPARAGUS PRODUCERS:
St Enodoc Asparagus, Great Keiro Farm, St Enodoc, PL27 6RP
Tel: 01208 863781 | @Twitter
Tregassow Asparagus, Tregassow Farm, St Erme, Truro, TR4 9BL
Farm shop open 10am – 5pm, seven days a week.
Also available at the Truro, Falmouth and Lostwithiel Farmers’ Markets.
Tel: 01872 520223 | E-mail: [email protected]
Enormous thanks to the über-talented David Griffen, who has kindly supplied the stunning photographs for this article and the recipe from his book The New West Country Cook Book. This beautiful book is priced at £20. **SORRY – THE BOOK HAS NOW SOLD OUT**
For all things asparagus visit the British Asparagus website.