Asparagus Rolls

I love asparagus. Really love it. I could eat it everyday for the duration of its short season and not get bored. In fact I would probably have it nearly the same way each time, nice and simple with good butter or oil. I might steam it, roast it or chargrill but I’d still dress it simply. I might have it with some cured ham or hard tangy cheese. But in the main I’d let the asparagus do all the talking.

And once the season was over that would be it. No more asparagus for a whole year. Because even more so than other vegetables asparagus loses much of its taste if its transported any distance. Not for me asparagus flown in from Thailand or Peru or Chile, it just doesn’t taste good enough to justify its price or its carbon footprint. The perfect situation for me would be to grow some in the garden but we don’t really have the space to create raised beds and London clay doesn’t make asparagus happy. I might dare to try it in a large tub and see how I get on; even a few home grown spears would be a wonderful thing to have. Until then though I’ll buy at local farm shops and PYO to get the best flavour. And I’ll eat and eat it until the season is done.

The short season usually starts in late April (traditionally St George’s Day) and lasts through to mid June though of course this is dependent on the weather during winter and early spring. Anywhere with sandy soil is good for asparagus growing and each well-known area from Formby in the North West to East Anglia and the Vale of Evesham stake their claims for being the best. Of course the best asparagus is what you can find that has been picked very recently and arrived in your kitchen quickly and landed on your plate ready to eat with minimal fuss.

Asparagus has always been prized and ‘The Neat House Gardens’ relates how the early market gardens surrounding London vied to produce asparagus as early as Candlemas by use of hot-bedding techniques and the liberal application of horse manure sent out from the city with the forced vegetables being sent back for consumption by the rich. Up to at least Mrs Beeton’s time asparagus continued to be forced and available from January. But at some point forced asparagus seems to have disappeared so either it didn’t taste much good or the cost became prohibitive, by the time Jane Grigson is writing about it in the 1970s there is no mention of it.

Times have changed in terms of cooking as well. Modern books suggest it takes about 8-12 minutes to steam whereas in the 1800s Acton, Beeton et al were saying 20-25 minutes of boiling and Grigson says it can take anywhere between 20-40 minutes. Goodness knows how big the spears needing 40 minutes were! Maybe the varieties grown have changed and we certainly seem to prefer our vegetable with lots more crunch than in the past but still 40 minutes seems extreme unless the aim was to make puree. Also common was to serve asparagus on toast to soak up some of the water from the boiling, steaming of course gets rid of this problem. And naturally the Victorians’ had special asparagus tongs for serving, mind you I think they had special cutlery for serving just about everything you can think of.

Recipe wise asparagus is often paired with eggs: hollandaise, dipped in boiled eggs, in omelettes, with fried egg in tapas, in tarts and quiches. Salty cheeses and cured meats also make great partners. Then there is the classic soup (which I have to confess I’ve never tried). Oh and of course with salmon or crab or chicken or….well almost endless possibilities. Googling ‘asparagus recipes’ gives 3.3 million hits so there is no shortage of ideas out there. One site I do recommend though is Fiona Beckett’s which will help you pick the right wine to enjoy with your treasured asparagus; focus on how you are serving it to help you make a good choice.

Because you can easily find so many ways to serve asparagus I thought I’d offer you something a little different. Flipping through various books I found a recipe from Hannah Glasse in 1747. Here it is (complete with archaic spelling and quirks):

Asparagus forced in French Role

Take three French Roles, take out all the Crumb, by first cutting a Piece of the Top-crust off; but be careful that the Crust fits again the same Place. Fry the Roles brown in fresh Butter, then take a Pint of Cream, the Yolk of six Eggs beat fine, a little Salt and Nutmeg, stir them well together over a slow Fire, till it begins to be thick. Have ready a hundred of small Grass boiled, then save Tops enough to stick the Roles with; the rest cut small and put into the Cream, fill the loaves with them. Before you fry the Roles, make Holes thick in the Top-crust to stick the Grass in; then lay on the Piece of Crust, and stick the Grass in, that it may look as if it was growing. It makes a pretty Side-dish at a second Course.

Inspired by this I did:

Asapargus and Egg Rolls:

Serves 1 for lunch

1 crusty French roll or half a small baguette

8 spears of asparagus

1 large or two small eggs

Mayonnaise (fresh or your favourite shop bought)

Cut the top off the roll, remove some of the crumb or else you will face the dangers of squirting egg mayonnaise everywhere. Hard boil the egg(s) and make into a light egg mayonnaise with as little mayonnaise as will just bind the eggs. Part steam or blanch the asparagus and then finish on a chargrill. Slather the egg mayonnaise on both sides of the bread. Put the asparagus on the bottom part of the roll. Put the top of the roll back on. Serve with salad. Watch out for escaping egg mayonnaise.

This article was first published in Francoise Murat & Associates newsletter in May 2010.

Prosecco prosecco prosecco

Matching food to wine or wine to food? Well normally I decide what I want to eat and then I think about what wine might go with it. I’m no expert at all, I stick mostly to ‘standard’ rules and also to wines I like. Occasionally I’ll go a bit off-piste, or someone will introduce me to something different, then I’ll revise my rules a bit. But its always the food first and the wine second.

In the last few weeks there’s been chance to turn this on its head. Try the wine and then wonder what to eat with it. Maybe if you have an extensive cellar this is a game you can play regularly….

“Darling I’ve found another bottle of that Puligny-Montrachet 1978 stuff, do you think it would be best with ……”.

These weren’t quite those kind of chances. Instead they were regular priced wines looking for new partners. First there was the Casillero cook off, great fun, great recipes and finding out that a wine I probably wouldn’t have looked at (I often avoid big brand names) was actually eminently drinkable. And now Niamh over at Eat Like a Girl is luring us with the possibility of prizes to try our hands at matching prosecco to food. Specifically Bisol Jeio prosecco and a chance to eat at the chefs table at Trinity.

Prosecco isn’t something I know much about and tempted by the possibility of a free tasting to help inspire food choices I popped over to Niamh’s (almost an institution) stall at Covent Garden on Thursday to see the lie of the land. I had a chat with Niamh about doing the stalls (hard work, great fun) and sipped the prosecco. Pears, peaches, off dry – but what to make to go with it. In my books prosecco, like most sparkling wine, makes a lovely aperitif but its maybe not quite so easy to have with food.

A little bit of googling and reading and a few thought came to mind…..pears…well they go well in salads with blue cheese and often walnuts. Pears and peaches…sometimes served with air-dried hams. A sweetish fruit and salty theme was emerging. I’d also got a hankering for something autumnal, earthy…

On the day I decided to experiment my husband turned out to be having beer in Bath, that’s the town in Avon and glass after glass of hoppy malty brown liquid, rather than any other beer/bath combination that might spring to mind. This meant that I had been abandoned/left to my own devices/was delighting in the perfect moment to do exactly as I wanted* (please delete as applicable). This was fortuitous, mostly he’s not a fan of sparkling wines, of blue cheese, or sweet/tart combinations and that’s right where I was heading.

Off to purloin ingredients from the local, erm, (super)market to combine with some goodies I already had in the fridge. I was aiming for English meets Italian. Italian wine, English inspired dish. This is where I ended up:

Goodshoeday’s autumnal sort of salad (for 2 people as a light meal or starter)


6 small beetroots
½ small squash
2tsp salsa di mostarda (I actually used some of the sweet pickle juices from my pickled cherry plums)
extra virgin cold pressed rapeseed oil (I like Hill Farm – and no they haven’t sent me any for free)
Blacksticks Blue cheese
Smoked cured ham (I used Richard Woodhall Black Combe Ham)
¼ savoy cabbage

Roast the beets in their skins for 1*1 ½ hours at R6/200C covered in foil. Top and tail, peeland cut into quarters (remember to wear rubber gloves), and keep war

Peel and core the squash and cut into small chunks. Roast in rapeseed oil for 40 minutes at R6/200C.

Shred the cabbage fairly coarsely and steam for 3-4 minutes so it retains some crunch.

Toss the beetroot and squash in the salsa di mostarda and some rapeseed oil.

Arrange 3 slices of ham on each plate with a gap in the centre. Pile the steamed cabbage in the middle then add beetroot and squash, add slivers of cheese and serve.

It was delicious though I have no idea whether it goes with prosecco of any type let alone the Bisol Jeio – the supermarket was clean out of prosecco all the other bloggers must have got their first.

Anyone for English wine?













This week it’s been English Wine Week, as you might imagine an event set up to encourage greater recognition (and consumption) of the wines produced in old Blighty. Its fair to say that even five years ago most people would have choked on their glass of Sauvignon at the prospect of a wide range of drinkable English wines being available, but even though many still might, they should perhaps think again. There are good English wines on offer in most of the major supermarkets and most self respecting farm shops also carry a few. Vineyard gate sales are also up.

Many of the well-known wines come from Kent (e.g. Chapel Down – who do a rather delightful wine called Bacchus that’s a good contender for swapping with Sauvignon) and Sussex where one of HM The Queen favourites fizzes comes from (Nyetimber, they do lovely stuff) but there’s plenty of options from other counties too. With my #livelocal challenge and the delightful sunny weather in mind I decided to sample something from Essex and happened upon a rosé made from Pinot Noir.








Here its is, its from New Hall vineyard, which is out towards the coast from Chelmsford. To pair with it we decided on a classic choice of lamb cutlets (local of course), simply grilling these and serving with new potatoes and wilted mixed greens. The match worked well and the rosé also stood up to being sipped on its own as an aperitif, its nice and fruity but sufficiently dry to be refreshing without too much acidity. It’s a nice mid but bright rosé colour. I thought it was a great all round wine both good on its own and with the lamb, much better than many rosés which can either be too sweet or too acidic. It’s pretty sensibly priced at about £6.00 a bottle (direct from the vineyard) and, I think, would rank well against a slightly pricier rosé.

If the weather holds like this I’d recommend you get your hands on a case, as I will be, to sip throughout the summer, with or without lamb. Go on discover some English wine for a refreshing change ;)