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.

Easy Lunch: Asparagus

I’ve said on here before how much I love asparagus and I’m very certain I will be saying it again before the season is over. Earlier in the week I went really simple with steamed asparagus and slithers of Ticklemore cheese popped under the grill until the cheese was just melting. The salty goats cheese was great with the asparagus. I didn’t take pictures though because I was so busy eating it.

Today I went for Parma ham, steamed asparagus and fried guinea fowl eggs.

Oh yum.

I don’t think you need instructions to be able to copy this, of course feel free to substitute the egg of your choice.

This week I am mostly eating asparagus from Norfolk.

Back of the fridge pasta

pasta with pestoYesterday when I was catching up with posts on a few of my favourite blogs I spotted a pasta blogging event that Mangocheeks at Allotment2Kitchen was taking part in. So I followed the links and ended up at Presto Pasta Nights, which this week (PPN #117) is hosted by Katie at Thyme for Cooking. The concept is that you blog about a pasta dish (well anything that has pasta or noodles in actually) and as pasta is one of my favourite quick dishes I thought it might be fun to take part especially as I had pasta for lunch on Monday from a mixture of things lurking in the fridge.

As I work from home quite a lot I get to rustle up whatever I fancy each day from whatever I can see in the fridge. I don’t often buy things specifically to use for lunch but instead muddle through with whatever I can find from leftovers and store cupboard basics. Its fair to say our cupboards and fridge are fairly well stocked so it not often that I struggle to make something tasty, but I do tend to really on pasta, salads and open sandwiches a lot.

On Monday the fridge yielded:

  • some cooked garden peas and new potatoes leftover from dinner the night before
  • the remains of a bunch of asparagus that had got hidden behind something else so it wasn’t in top form any more but still edible
  • some fresh tarragon pesto that was dangerously near its use by date
  • the last of a chunk of parmesan

So I headed to the cupboard and dug out the current pasta shape (some De Cecce Tortiglioni) and cooked it as per the packet instructions. I steamed the asparagus above the pasta for about 7 minutes and then cut it into 2cm lengths. Once the pasta was done I drained it, put it back in the pan and stirred in a couple of spoonfuls of pesto, and tossed it with the asparagus, peas and potatoes (cut into 1cm dice). Into a bowl with a good grating of parmesan on the top and there was my lunch. Maybe 15 minutes from fridge to table – not bad.

Note: The fresh pesto was Purely Pesto. I’m going to be doing a producer review soon so watch out for that.

In season: more asparagus

A few weeks ago I treated myself to a ‘Tarte Maison‘ tin from John Lewis. Its a lovely thing, 3 times as long as its wide and calling out to have something pretty made in it. Initially I’d intended to make a rhubarb tart that I’d seen Jonathan (aka @Browners), over at ‘Around Britain with a Paunch‘ mention on Twitter. I’ve not got to the rhubarb tart yet – mainly because we don’t eat that many desserts so it just hasn’t happened.

But this weekend I thought it would be nice to do something a little bit different with asparagus that still let it shine and played to its best qualities but moved away from simple steaming and dressing (much as I love it just steamed).

The tart tin seemed just the thing to show off the asparagus.

It was quick and easy:

1. Steam 10 asparagus spears until tender and then immediately plunge them into cold water so they retain their vibrant green colour. Cut each spear in half so you have a bottom end and an end with the tip on.
2. Grease the tart tin and then line with four layers of filo pastry (I needed 8 sheets which overlapped in the middle). Pour in baking beans and blind bake for 7 minutes at Gas 6/200C/400F. Remove from oven and careful remove the baking beans. Allow to cool slightly.
3. Lay the bottoms of the asparagus spears in the pastry case. Add soft goats cheese cut into small pieces (I used 100g of Pants y Gawn). Pour in beaten and seasoned eggs (it took 6 medium eggs).
4. Lay the tops of asaparagus spears on the eggy mix. Bake 20 minutes at Gas 6 until the mixture is firm. Allow to cool, admire, slice and serve.

In season: asparagus, part 1

The asparagus season has been going for a week or so now and so far I’ve only had one tasting just over a week ago and none since. It was great but once only is not good enough, there are only 6-8 weeks of the season, I refuse to buy asparagus out of season and I love the stuff so I really need to get focussed – I mean I’d eat it everyday if I could! So today, despite the heavy rain and blustery wind, I decided it had to be asparagus for lunch, preferably with some Jersey Royals alongside. A quick trip to the supermarket was required – now I know I should be buying this stuff at the local farmers shop/market/etc but:

a. there isn’t one near me and
b. its Monday so time is short for food shopping. 

I got what I needed – a good bunch of asparagus (it was from Hampshire – I’m really wondering where the East Anglia asparagus is this year after all its nearer – so much for Waitrose’s local sourcing policy!) and a small bag of Jersey Royals (and what happened to them being sold still in the soil it seemed so much better and they had them like that last year?).

Anyway back home with my haul of goodies I set to work to make a quick lunch. I like my asparagus simply done –I’m not one for turning it into soups it always seems best to me steamed or maybe grilled and then dressed with some oil or butter, or served with simple accompaniments such as poached egg, or a little cheese. Today I opted for steaming it above the potatoes and then serving it on a bed of parma ham, drizzling it with olive oil and sprinkling with a little bit of Sacanova Aged Mahon cheese, the potatoes were alongside with some oil and fresh mint.

Sweet and slightly nutty asparagus, earthy, nutty potatoes, sweet ham and a salty caramel tang from the cheese – perfection.

With only about 45 days left to get my fill how shall I have tomorrow’s asparagus?

G20 antics

Police and protesters; they’re ranged up against each other outside the Bank of England spoiling for a fight about something, anything, important or otherwise.

Meanwhile over at ‘Word of Mouth’ (The Guardian’s food blog) the real action is already underway with journalists praising Jamie O’s menu for tonight’s exclusive dinner at No.10 and the posting populace getting very het-up about seasonality, authenticity, diversity and why oh why its Saint Jamie in the limelight again. 

So lets just try to take a balanced look at things (because I’m sure Gordon and Barack will be aiming for balance today and tomorrow, if not dietary then economically at least).  

The brief: 

Mr Oliver has apparently been given a brief to create a menu that showcases the best of seasonal British food and cooking including finding things to represent each of the parts of the United Kingdom. Now some of you may think that ‘best’ ‘British’ and ‘food/cooking’ in the same sentence is something of an oxymoron and that St Jamie is a fool to have accepted the gig. But as we know from past form there is nothing like a challenge to get Jamie’s enthusiasm racing away with him and him saying ‘YES’ before anyone has any chance of stopping him. Even the imminent arrival of his third child is not enough to stop Jamie pouncing on this chance.

Remember it’s a BIG BIG GIG. 

So as we proceed through this analysis of the menu lets remember the brief is ‘BEST SEASONAL BRITISH’ cooked for people from 20 different nations with all the restrictions that entails. Because if you were on The Apprentice doing this and you junked the brief straight off Mr Sugar would be firing you right back to where you came from in no time.

The menu:

You’ve probably seen it already but lets see if and how it sticks to the brief:


Baked Scottish Salmon with Seashore Vegetables, Broad Beans, Herb Garden Salad, Mayonnaise and Wild Garlic-scented Irish Soda bread
Vegetarian option is Childwickbury Goat’s Cheese with Roast Shallots, Seashore Vegetables, Herb Green Salad and Wild Garlic-scented Irish Soda Bread (no mayo)


Slow-Roasted Shoulder of Welsh Lamb, very first of the season Jersey Royals, first of the season Asparagus and Wild St George Mushrooms. Mint Sauce and Gravy
Vegetarian option is Lovage & Potato Dumplings with first of the season Asparagus and Wild St George Mushrooms


Hot Bakewell Tart with Home-made Custard

A quick look in any seasonal cooking book or any of the various online seasonality resources will show you that Jamie is potentially quite restricted in some areas e.g. fruit = pretty much nothing, meat = wild pigeon!. And once he has to factor in a whole range of dietary requirements the options get cut further. So lets just be clear here: the guy has to create something uniquely (and identifiably) British and WOW that fits with a plethora of dietary restrictions and a rather thin set of seasonal choices.

So his only option is to get top notch ingredients and try to make them sing.


Salmon: in season, very recognisably British, represents Scotland (still part of the UK last time I looked despite the best efforts of may a Scotsman and woman). Obvious choice but shellfish is probably a no no and many might squeal at eel.

Seashore Veg: identified on most sites as sea kale and samphire. Well he’s on the mark with sea kale but I’m a bit doubtful about the possibility of samphire – it’s a shade early for that really but he can hardly have had it grown in a poly tunnel so he must know a secret source. I have seen it growing on the mud flats of Maldon fairly early in previous years so its not impossible. And its very British.

Broad beans: pretty British, very early so these have got to come from under glass, possibly from somewhere like the Isle of Wight or Channel Islands. And before we all go off on one about producing things early under glass lets just remember that they’ve been doing it since way back in the 1500’s – what do you think they used Chelsea for before they built posh houses and football clubs on it!

Herb garden salad: definitely seasonal, not especially British but that will depend on the actual herbs selected and what’s available. Hopefully he’ll have some sorrel or watercress or early spinach in there.

Mayonnaise: not reknowned for being particularly British but it is tasty and we could make a slightly weak argument about it allegedly being brought back from Mahon in Minorca after Richelieu defeated the British there in 1756 (bit tenuous though). I think he should have plumped for a dressing made with rapeseed oil and a herb or fruit vinegar.

Wild garlic soda bread: wild garlic is definitely in season and grows across much of the UK; and soda bread is found both North and South of the border in Ireland so it fits (regardless of your politics on the UK/Irish matter).

Vegetarians: sadly its goats cheese again for them it seems (a stock answer to ‘oh dear how do I cope with the veggie people’) but since good goats cheese is so lovely and a staple of the British food scene these days I’d be happy to opt for this and they get to have the same supporting vegetables.

Main: This is a tough one to call. The options are limited and some of the things on the menu are VERY early in the season. I imagine there’s been a lots of frantic sourcing going on to get some of this stuff but the choices are all well known British options and show the range of possibilities from across the UK

Lamb: of course it is now April! Its a bit early in the season but not impossible to get lamb that’s mature enough – I suspect since its being slow roasted it’ll be close to 1 year old rather than new season. Pretty tough call to find another option when pork and beef are probably both of the menu due to dietary restrictions and everyone would simply roll their eyes if its was chicken being served up.

Jersey Royals: if they are ready I say bring them on, fantastic.

Asparagus: after the cool winter I’m doubtful this is really in season yet but he must have managed to get its somewhere – I love asparagus so I’m quite jealous.

Vegetarians: good to see that the supporting notes are the same as for the meat option, veggies are so often just palmed off with a totally different mushed up irrelevant dish whereas this references back and adds lovage which will be in season.

Dessert: oh dear this is where the controversy really warms up. For a start most people say the real thing is Bakewell Pudding and it’s pretty easy to search out bucket loads of supporting evidence for that assertion. But many of the same sources also suggestion that Bakewell Tart is not such the chav newcomer most of us would have and recipes can be traced back at least to the mid 1800s for dishes that are more tart like less pudding and indeed tarts akin to Bakewell have a heritage going back further across most of the UK. So, as long as St J isn’t just opening a pack of Mr Kipling’s then I’m sure things will be okay. Pudding, dessert, whatever you want to call it there must have been lots of options to consider. I think he’s slightly lost the seasonal plot though here as he could have done something interesting with new seasons rhubarb (like the a wonderful dish I tasted at Northcote Manor in Lancashire earlier this year of Rhubarb Carpaccio, Custard Crumble Parfait, Rhubarb Granita which was real wow), even a simple fruit fool would have done the trick I think (and stopped the arguing about tarts and puddings).

So overall has he met the brief?

Well I’d say he’s well over 90% of the way there with this menu, plus its relatively simple and accessible and crucially for him straightforward to prepare. It’s a meant to be a working dinner not an off the scale gastronomic experience. I can quite imagine that St Jamie will pull it off again and by tomorrow when those who tasted comment we’ll be hearing about how great it was. And if not, well then I’ll eat my words or at the very least some seasonal British food.

Think you can do better? Look out for tomorrow’s post to join in the debate and have the chance to create your own G20 menu moment and also find out some useful resources on British food.