May is my favourite month of the year. It’s when we say a fond farewell to all the ingredients we have come to know so well over the winter, and welcome with open arms the plethora of wonderful spring produce that Britain has to offer. Stand by for the green vegetable treat of the season – juicy British asparagus. As well as tasting marvellous, asparagus is a fantastic source of folic acid (vital for healthy blood), with more than two-thirds of your recommended daily intake in just 5-6 spears.
Even with modern growing methods extending the British season, the home-grown stuff is only around in late spring and summer. I’m not being blindly patriotric when I say that British asparagus is all rather special. Both the tender texture and elusive flavour – sweet, yet grassy – are only found in asparagus that’s not long out of the ground. I tend to steam it, though roasting, grilling and griddling not only adds a certain smokiness, but can also intensify its sweetness.
To celebrate the British season, I was lucky to have my first taster this year at Kingscote vineyard, and these juicy, fat spears certainly didn’t disappoint. Simply served with lashings of hollandaise, (the almighty classic which asparagus has a particular affinity with), Kingscote’s notable home-grown sparkling wine, Bacchus, was a perfect addition to these gently cooked stems. And just by a stroke of luck, it also happens to be English wine week from the 23rd – 31st May, so there really is no better time to celebrate these two superior and loyal British partners.
Asparagus is so versatile. The smallest of spears can be eaten raw, shaved into salads to add wisps of vibrant green; while the cooked stems are an excellent addition to risottos, pastas and tarts (see below recipe), especially when combined with other spring ingredients, such as Jersey Royals, and spring lamb. And don’t forget the trimmings – boiled up with chicken stock , they make a fine base for an early vegetable soup.
Asparagus, goats cheese and basil tart
Prep 15 minutes
Cook 35 minutes
12-14 asparagus spears
1 x puff pastry ready-rolled sheet
150g soft goats cheese
a handful of fresh basil leaves
egg yolk, for brushing
1. Preheat oven to 180C, fan 160C. Place the pastry on a baking sheet and using a sharp knife, lightly score the pastry dough 1 inch in from the edges to mark an inner rectangle. Using a fork, pierce the dough inside the markings at 1/2-inch intervals. Bake until golden, about 10-15 minutes.
2. Remove pastry shell from oven, and spread the goats cheese to cover the centre of the tart. (you can heat the cheese to make it more spreadable if you wish) Trim the bottoms of the asparagus spears to fit crosswise or lengthwise inside the tart shell; arrange in a single layer over the cheese, and brush with some olive oil. Bake until the spears are tender, about 20 -25 minutes, depending on the thickness of the asparagus. Season with salt and pepper and scatter with basil leaves before serving.
All photography, recipes and styling by Natalie Seldon