Wednesday, 22 November 2017

First asparagus of the season is nearly with us, which is handy!

First asparagus of the season is nearly with us, which is handy!

MY Aunty Lesley possesses an astonishing assortment of useless kitchen clap-trap, writes Paul Clerehugh.

Catalogue purchases: Chef ’n’ Stem strawberry huller, boiled egg slicer, slow-cook crock-pot, butter mill dispenser, pickle pickers. Her asparagus kettle is the most daft and pricey. All useless cooking equipment is costly.

Asparagus kettle: slim pipe-shaped tall pan, wire basket insert. Fill with boiling water, thicker asparagus stalk at the bottom, tips at the top. Boiling water at the base cooks the chunkier ends, boiling steamy water at the lid cooks the tips.

I’m no physicist — boiling water is boiling water. Aunty Lesley is a terrible cook.

Turn the asparagus sideways, cook it in a normal pan, plenty of boiling salted water — although you lose all the flavour to your water.

Try boiling/steaming vegetables in a plastic bag — this keeps their flavour. Better still, barbecue or chargriddle asparagus. Delicious.

I’ll patent a tall tubular spaghetti kettle to compete with asparagus kettles on wedding gift lists.

Debrett’s etiquette guide suggests the proper way to eat asparagus is with fingers. Her Majesty does it this way, licking hollandaise off the royal fingers.

For this reason there’s no need to be peeling the stem or snapping off those ends. Cook them as they are, eat as far as the woody part, sucking out the juices and leaving the stubs on your plate.

Traditionally English asparagus makes a short annual appearance from St. George’s Day to Midsummer’s Day. However, with polytunnels, advanced growing techniques and global warming, the season now encompasses March to August and some local asparagus has been predicted to be ready in a fortnight’s time.

St George’s Day heralds a few other favourites: Jersey Royals, samphire, wild garlic, sea trout and St George’s mushrooms.

Buy fantastic local asparagus from Luxters’ Hambleden Winery (grown at Dorney Court). Gabriel Machin usually has local asparagus.

Better still, you can pick your own at Hildreds (www.hildredspyo.co.uk), Lartons in Mapledurham, or Copas in Cookham (www.copasfarms.co.uk).

Part of the lily family, store it upright in a pot of water. It was called sparrow-grass in Shakespeare’s day.

I’m cooking an April wedding reception and the bride’s just had a last-minute change of mind on starters — swap asparagus for gravadlax; worried that asparagus will make the loo smell. Scientific studies confirms that sulphurous compounds found in asparagus produce uniquely pungent urine.

The Usain Bolt of the vegetable world, asparagus can grow six inches in 24 hours. Perhaps it’s the aphrodisiac properties that deterred my bride. Bride’s prerogative.

My favourite way to enjoy asparagus: brush it with olive oil, slowly grill it on a ribbed griddle pan, making sure the griddle is not too hot or the olive oil smokes and the asparagus burns before cooking. Season with Maldon sea salt, twist of black pepper, served with a greedy dollop of wild garlic pesto.

Wild garlic is another ingredient appearing at the same time as asparagus. Forage for it locally, find it in woodlands not supermarkets, usually among the bluebells.

Distinctive thin long leaves, grass-green, similar to other inedible plants. Recognise it by its pungent scent.

Unlike cultivated garlic, eat the leaves not the bulb. Its taste is more delicate, similar to garlicky chives. Wild garlic flowers — also edible — will help you identify the plant.

Six delicate white-petalled heads forming a rough globe that look like miniature exploding fireworks. It’s around until June and will freeze — roll loads of leaves into a tight bundle and wrap in clingfilm before freezing.

I prefer making a pesto, which keeps refrigerated for months.

Toast some walnuts, then pestle and mortar them with wild garlic leaves, olive oil and grated parmesan — a food processor will also suffice. Store it in an airtight jar. Delicious with asparagus.

l Paul Clerehugh is
chef-patron of the Crooked Billet, Stoke Row, and the London Street Brasserie, Reading. Catch Paul every week on
Food on Friday (BBC Radio Berkshire, 2pm to 3pm) for light-hearted food chat, recipes and kitchen help live on air.

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