I love this time of year when the asparagus really gets into its stride. Like most things, it’s seemed late this year, but mine has finally started producing its delectable stems in abundance now and I’m picking a good bunch every couple of days – such hardship! Needless to say, my meals are tending to centre around asparagus at the moment.
Having enjoyed the first few helpings simply steamed or roasted earlier in the week, last night’s menu featured oven-roasted asparagus, pancetta & pine nut risotto (sublime!) and tonight’s was an asparagus, smoked salmon & fennel tart, with coleslaw using my first spring cabbage from the allotment and a delicate herby salad with sorrel, spicy salad leaves, mint and lovage from the garden at home. Heavenly!
Asparagus, Smoked Salmon & Fennel Tart
1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry
Bunch of asparagus (I used 9 stems as that’s what I had!), woody stems removed
100g smoked salmon
Bunch of fennel
3 tbsp double cream
3 tbsp finely grated Parmesan
Olive oil to drizzle
Roll out the pastry to the size of your baking tray. Cut a fine line, not quite going through to the base about 1 cm all around the edge.
Mix the beaten egg and 3 tbsp double cream in a small bowl, season and add the chopped fennel leaves, then spread over the pastry base. Scatter the shredded smoked salmon over the base and carefully place the trimmed asparagus stems on top. Season and scatter with finely grated Parmesan. Drizzle with olive oil and cook in a hot oven, 200°C fan or Gas 6 for about 20-25 mins or until the pastry is golden brown.
Serve warm with fresh coleslaw or salad of your choice. Delicious cold too!
The risotto is simply a variation of Delia’s excellent oven-roast risotto, tweaked to suit the ingredients on offer. As ever, I made more than I needed and had the leftovers for lunch today as arancini, stuffed with garlic & herb cider-infused cow’s cheese (Scrumpy Sussex) from our local Stonegate Dairy. Very good indeed…
Roast Asparagus, Pancetta & Pine Nut Risotto
1 small onion, chopped
75ml dry white wine
170g risotto rice
500ml home-made vegetable or asparagus stock (use the woody stems) – plus extra just in case
1 tbsp fresh tarragon leaves, chopped (or 1 tsp dried if that’s what you have)
9-10 spears asparagus
100g pancetta or smoked bacon, chopped
75g grated Parmesan cheese
Handful pine nuts, toasted until just brown
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, Gas 6. Cook the onion and pancetta (or bacon) in the butter until soft and golden – 5-7 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the asparagus by breaking off any woody stems (they should break easily at a joint – use to make stock if you have time). Place in a roasting dish, drizzle with olive oil, season and roast for 10-12 minutes or until just tender. Remove from the oven and set to one side, then turn the oven down to 160°C, Gas 4.
Place a 9” square baking dish (2” deep) into the oven to warm up. Add the rice to the onions in the pan and stir through to get a good coating of butter. (It will look as though there’s not nearly enough rice at this stage, but it swells during cooking.) Add the wine, allow to sizzle for a few minutes, then add the stock, season and bring to boiling point. Transfer the contents of the pan into the warmed dish, stir and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Then stir in the cooked asparagus, cut into bite-size pieces, smoked salmon and chopped herbs, plus 2 tbsp Parmesan and add more stock if it’s all absorbed – I find it always needs more, so make sure you allow extra. Return to the oven and cook for a further 15 minutes, before serving with extra cheese and toasted pine nuts.
I’m toying with the idea of making the next batch into soup – is that sacrilege?! I’ve already made a stock with the woody stems, so it’s very tempting. It’s certainly not the kind of thing you’d do unless you had lots to play with! I’ll keep you posted…