Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Recipes

Thanks to a pioneering farmer, you can now enjoy asparagus in the autumn

By Mark Hix

It's a source of annual disappointment to me that our asparagus growers have such a short season in comparison to some of our overseas competitors – in the UK, asparagus generally appear in the shops in early April and they are well and truly finished by the end of June.

A month ago, however, I received a produce box from Farmison, a new online grocery service that provides the general public with food from around the country that only chefs usually have access to. In the box was a bunch of lovely asparagus wrapped in a Wye Valley wrapper. Obviously I thought there had been some sort of a mistake, but when I called up to complain, I was told the news that the pioneering Wye Valley growers have created a second, or 'reverse' season for asparagus. So now you can enjoy them all over again, just at that time of year when all our lovely green summer vegetables are starting to disappear.

Asparagus with capers, lemon and herbs

Serves 4

This is a simple asparagus starter with a crunchy, savoury and acidic crust. This kind of crust is used a lot in Italian cookery for various dishes, even scattered on pasta.

400g or so of asparagus with woody ends removed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil or melted butter to serve

For the topping

60g fresh white breadcrumbs, lightly toasted

40g butter, melted

40g capers, drained and chopped

The finely grated zest of 1 large lemon

1tbsp freshly grated Parmesan

1tbsp chopped parsley

Cook the asparagus in boiling salted water for 4-5 minutes, depending on the size, until tender, then drain. Mix all of the ingredients for the topping together and season. Arrange the asparagus on warmed serving plates, pour over the melted butter or olive oil and scatter the topping over.

Asparagus and ceps

Serves 4

Asparagus are not usually around at the same time as British ceps, so it's great to be able to serve the two together in this recipe. I've also added a little polenta base here to make it more of a substantial main course or a vegetarian dish, but that's up to you.

200g asparagus with the woody ends removed

200-250g firm ceps, cleaned if necessary and cut into quarters if large

40g butter

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the polenta

400 milk

1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed

1 bay leaf

Salt and freshly ground white pepper

A pinch of nutmeg

35g quick cooking polenta

50-60ml double cream

40g freshly grated Parmesan

First make the polenta: bring the milk to the boil in a thick-bottomed pan, then add the garlic, bay leaf, salt and pepper and nutmeg. Simmer for 5 minutes then whisk in the polenta.

Cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring every so often so that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.

Add the cream and Parmesan and cook for a further 5 minutes. Cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile, cook the asparagus in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes until tender, depending on the thickness.

While the asparagus is cooking, melt the butter in a frying pan and cook the ceps on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes, seasoning them lightly as they are cooking.

Cut the asparagus into chunky lozenges on the angle and toss them in with the ceps.

Spoon the polenta on to warmed serving plates and scatter the asparagus and ceps on top.

Chicken and shaved asparagus salad

Serves 4

2-4 chicken thighs

Chicken stock, to cover

6 stems of asparagus, cooked in boiling salted water for a minute and refreshed under cold water

100g Asian salad leaves and herbs such as Thai basil, coriander, mizuna, mustard leaf, mint etc

a cucumber

3 spring onions, finely shredded on the angle

For the dressing

Juice of 1 kaffir or ordinary lime

1tbsp rice wine vinegar or white wine vinegar

4tbsp ground nut oil

tbsp finely chopped fresh lemon grass

tbsp finely chopped galangal or root ginger

1tsp sugar

mild red chilli, seeded and finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the chicken thighs in a pan and cover with stock, season, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes; leave to cool in the liquid unless you are in a hurry.

Slice the asparagus thinly on the slant. Cut the cucumber into 4cm lengths, cut into thin slices around the seeds in the centre and shred the slices into matchstick-like pieces; discard the seeds.

Remove the chicken from the liquid and shred.

To make the dressing, mix all the ingredients together and season. Mix all the other ingredients together and mix with the dressing. Arrange on plates and serve immediately.

Asparagus in warka pastry

Serves 4

This is rather like a Moroccan cigar which is normally made with spiced minced lamb. It makes a perfect snack. You could even wrap the asparagus in ham and emmental before rolling in the pastry. You can serve a herb mayonnaise or a yogurt-based dip with this if you wish.

12 or so asparagus spears with the woody ends removed

6 sheets of filo or warka pastry

40-50g butter melted

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Cook the asparagus in boiling salted water for 4-5 minutes until tender, then drain and dry on some kitchen paper.

Cut the leaves of pastry to the length of the asparagus and large enough for it to be rolled around 3 or 4 times. Cover the filo with a damp cloth so it doesn't dry out while you are preparing the dish.

Take a sheet of filo and brush it lightly with butter, lay a piece of asparagus at one end and roll it up tightly and place on a baking tray. Repeat with the rest of the asparagus. Bake for about 10 minutes until golden.

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