Tag Archives: asparagus

A citrussy sort of week…

Shed and clematis

Citrus fruit have featured heavily in my cooking this week; I’m not quite sure why. They seem to go with the delicious produce I’m bringing home from the allotment at the moment: fresh spears of asparagus in particular. It’s still extremely dry everywhere, worryingly so for early springtime, so the asparagus harvest isn’t huge yet, but quite enough for a solo diner to feast every couple of days – decadence indeed.

I brought a handful of spears home on Wednesday and just fancied something really simple to accompany them. From out of the blue, I had a notion to make hollandaise sauce, although I’ve never made it before. Could you make it for one, though – I only had one egg, so I very much hoped so! Cue a quick online search, which brought up the recipe below, from a blog called And Here We Are – worked a treat, and definitely child’s play to make. I was lucky enough to have organic eggs from my friend’s hens – hence the lovely, golden colour. I served it with roast asparagus, linguine and chopped flat leaf parsley – just divine.

Linguine with Roast Asparagus & Hollandaise Sauce – for one
(but multiply upwards to feed more!)

For the hollandaise sauce:

1 egg yolk
1 tbsp hot water
salt
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp butter
freshly ground pepper

Put the egg yolk in a small bowl and whisk with a small hand whisk – I like these, but you could use a small balloon whisk too. Then whisk in 1 tbsp hot water and a pinch of salt. Finally add 1 tsp fresh lemon juice and 1 tbsp or thereabouts of butter.

Place the bowl in a steamer insert over a pan of gently simmering water and keep on whisking until it thickens to a lovely creamy consistency.

Hollandaise sauce

Remove from the heat, but you can leave the sauce standing over the hot water to keep warm while you prepare whatever you’re serving it with.

In my case, I’d been roasting asparagus in olive oil (10 minutes in a hot oven at 200°C fan, Gas 6), and had the linguine on to cook at the same time. I simply served the drained pasta with the roast asparagus, topped with hollandaise and garnished with chopped parsley. Absolute heaven….

Roast asparagus with pasta and hollandaise

More lemons came into play this weekend when I was pondering what sweet treats I could make relatively quickly before my parents came over for an early lunch on Saturday. My mother and I were heading out shopping for wedding outfits for my son’s July wedding, leaving my father at home, dog-sitting and sports viewing. A quick lunch of homemade granary bread, Delia’s leek & potato soup (puréed, rather than the chunky version I usually make) and Italian lemon & almond cookies fitted the bill perfectly. We may not have found an outfit, but lunch was delicious 🙂

No lemons in the soup, of course, but the leeks at the allotment are fast pushing up their statuesque seed heads, which means I’m trying to use them up. I also need to free up the bed for the next rotation, although courgettes and sweetcorn/squash are next in line and I’ve only just planted the seeds in the propagator, so I do have a few weeks yet….

Velvety Leek & Potato Soup – serves 6

4-5 leeks, finely chopped and well rinsed
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
50g butter
1 litre chicken stock (or use vegetable stock if you prefer)
275ml milk
1 bay leaf
Salt & pepper

Melt the butter in a large pan and add the chopped onions, potatoes, leeks and celery. stir well to mix, add the bay leaf and then leave the vegetables to sweat over a low heat, covered, for about 15 minutes. Add the stock and milk. bring to the boil, cover and cook for 20 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Leave to cool, then whizz in batches in a liquidiser until smooth. Reheat to serve with good bread.

Back to the lemons, and specifically these ricciarelli, soft lemon & almond cookies. I had four egg whites in the fridge, left over from last weekend’s tiramisu, and though I toyed with the idea of macaroons, I didn’t have time to make them, leave them to stand and allow to cool before filling. This recipe had caught my eye in Sainsbury’s April magazine, so I doubled the quantities (it uses just two egg whites) and gave it a go – impressively light and citrussy, oh and gluten-free, of course, which is always good to know. I shall be making these again….

Soft Lemon & Almond Ricciarelli – makes 20-24

Lemon and almond cookies

250g caster sugar
Grated zest of 2 large lemons
250g ground almonds
2 tbsp flaked almonds (plus a few more to sprinkle – optional)
4 large egg whites
150g icing sugar, sifted
4 tsp lemon juice

Line 3 baking trays with baking parchment.

Place the caster sugar in a food processor with the grated lemon zest and pulse until well mixed. Tip into a large mixing bowl and add the ground almonds.

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites with 50g icing sugar until they form stiff peaks. Fold the sugar and almond mixture gradually into the egg whites, adding the lemon juice as you go, until evenly combined, then finally fold in the flaked almonds.

Place the remaining 100g icing sugar on a large plate and drop heaped tablespoons of the mixture onto the sugar, one by one, rolling them around with your fingertips until coated all over. Be warned: this is a messy process, but it does work – you may need to add more icing sugar towards the end if you run out of dry powder.

Transfer them to the lined baking trays with a spatula and space well apart; the original recipe suggested 6 on each, but they didn’t spread as much as I thought, so you could definitely get away with 8 or 9 on each tray. Sprinkle with more flaked almonds if you like. (These weren’t in the Sainsbury’s version, but I like the added crunch.) Sprinkle with any remaining icing sugar, then bake at 140°C fan, Gas 3 for 15-20 minutes until a very light golden brown, with a slightly cracked surface. Leave to cool on the tray, then enjoy with a cup of tea and a happy smile.

Tulip Sapporo and philadelphus
Tulip Sapporo against the gorgeous Philadelphus coronarius aureus (golden mock orange)

Sowing crazy

Primrose pot

I’m so grateful for four-day weekends at this time of year, especially when they happen to coincide with good weather for once! Despite having family and friends around for Easter, with the associated cooking and entertaining – any excuse! – it’s good to still have time to get out in the garden/allotment and feel you’ve made progress at this busy time in the growing calendar.

A fellow plotholder had a huge delivery of spent mushroom compost a few weeks ago, and when she’d taken what she needed, offered it to other allotmenteers for the princely sum of £1.80 a barrowload. I hadn’t intended to get any this year, having added lots of stable manure last year, but this was too good an opportunity to miss. Plus it’s so dry at the moment that moving it was far less effort than it has been some years. I duly shifted 6 barrowfuls on Good Friday, focussing on mulching round my fruit bushes and dahlias, but the beds looked so good afterwards that I ended up doing another 6 barrowloads today, ready to plant peas, courgettes and beans – all heavy feeders that will definitely appreciate the extra goodness. No wonder my FitBit tells me I’ve done 21,000 steps today – who needs a gym when you have a garden?!

Mushroom compost in barrow

To put the mushroom compost where I wanted it entailed taking out some overwintered plants like the calabrese, which has done amazingly well to keep shooting for so long, but is starting to flower now. The spinach and chard in last year’s salad bed are also putting up flowering stems, which means they’ll go bitter if not used soon. A good excuse for a spinach, pea & mint soup when my parents came over for Easter Sunday lunch. Followed, of course, by a broccoli, caramelised onion & goat’s cheese tart – divine! I also discovered a row of rocket and winter salad I’d planted under cloches last autumn and forgotten all about – wonderful to pick your own salad at this time of year.

The first asparagus was ready on Good Friday too – incredibly early thanks to all this early sunshine. No hardship to pick that and serve it simply roasted with a sublime, oaky, buttery white rioja from the Wine Sociey (Navajas Blanco Crianza 2014) – a match made in heaven.

Broccoli quiche with asparagus and salad_cropped

Soil prepared, it was a relatively simple matter to sow the first peas of the year: purple mangetout Shiraz and old-favourite sugar snap Sugar Bon, along with my first sowing of root crops: parsnips Tender & True, carrot Torchon and beetroot Cylindra and Renova. I’ve covered these with fleece to keep the soil warm as they germinate and to prevent carrot root fly in the early stages of growth. I also mixed horticultural sand with the soil where the carrots are to go thanks to a tip-off from my experienced allotment neighbour and former farmer. He always manages to get fabulous long rows of carrots, whereas I’m lucky to get half-a-dozen to survive the inevitable slug grazing. Watch this space 🙂

Asparagus bed with tulips

I returned from the allotment late this afternoon, tired but happy, with a basket of purple-sprouting broccoli, parsley, leeks, more asparagus and a bunch of gorgeous tulips from my cutting bed – so pleased that they’ve done well enough to pick for the house this year. These particular ones are Bruine Wimpel and Ronaldo – a gorgeous mix.

Tulips Bruine Wimpel and Ronaldo April 2017_cropped

All in all, a very satisfying few days’ work – if only every weekend was four days long!

Broccoli, Caramelised Onion & Goat’s Cheese Tart – serves 6-8

Broccoli and goats cheese tart

20cm shortcrust pastry case, baked blind
3 eggs
300ml double cream (or single if you prefer)
3 large onions, sliced
25g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
Handful purple-sprouting broccoli
100g mild goat’s cheese, crumbled
Fresh nutmeg, grated
Seasoning

Melt the oil and butter over a low hat in a large frying pan, add the sliced onions and garlic and cook on low for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and caramelised. Stir in the sugar 5 minutes or so before the end, then add the balsamic vinegar and remove from the heat.

Cook the broccoli in the microwave in a little water for 2-3 minutes until just tender, then drain. Whisk the eggs with the cream, and add the thyme leaves, seasoning and crumbled goat’s cheese. Gently stir in the caramelised onions and cooked broccoli, then turn into the baked tart case. Cook at 180°C fan, Gas 5 for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm with salad.

To finish, I have to share one of our favourite family desserts for special gatherings, tiramisu. This is one of my younger son’s signature desserts; I’ve forgotten now how it was that he came to make this, but he did such a good job that the task usually falls to him! He was away this Easter though, so I had to dig out the recipe and make it myself – I’m pleased to report it still worked.

Tiramisu – serves 8-10

Tiramisu

450ml strong black coffee (I make mine in a cafetière)
1 vanilla pod (optional – you could also use 1 tsp vanilla extract or paste)
200g tub mascarpone
4 egg yolks
75g caster sugar (or vanilla sugar if you have it)
300ml double cream, whipped
100ml brandy (or grappa)
1-2 packets sponge fingers (one packet is never enough, but I suppose it depends on the size of your dish!)
1 level tbsp cocoa powder to dust

Pour the coffee into a shallow bowl, add the brandy (or grappa if you want to be authentic!) and vanilla pod if using. Leave to infuse while you prepare the custard mix.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until pale and thick, then whisk in the mascarpone until smooth. Add the vanilla extract or paste if you’re not using a vanilla pod. Fold the softly whipped cream into the mascarpone mix.

Remove the vanilla pod from the coffee (wash, dry and add to sugar to make vanilla sugar if you like). Dip the sponge fingers into the coffee mixture, then place in rows on the base of a rectangular serving dish – mine measures 20cm x 30cm. Don’t lrsve them in the coffee too ,long as they are liable to disintegrate! Spread half the mascarpone mixture gently over the soaked sponge fingers, then dip the remaining sponge fingers in the coffee and place on top. Finish with a final layer of mascarpone mixture, spreading right to the edges to cover the fingers completely.

Chill in the fridge for at least 6 hours before serving; tastes even better the next day! Dust with the sifted cocoa powder to serve.

globe artichoke
Globe artichokes have survived the winter at last!

 

 

 

 

Awesome asparagus!

asparagus

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

Asparagus and smoked salmon 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

1 egg

3 tbsp double cream

3 tbsp finely grated Parmesan

Seasoning

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

Asparagus, pancetta and pine nut risotto

1 small onion, chopped

50g butter

 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

Olive oil

Seasoning

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…

Rainy Bank Holiday Blues

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I suppose it was inevitable that one of the recent run of bank holidays would revert to form and be wet and miserable – unfortunate that it was this particular day when I had great plans for getting down to the allotment and planting out a whole host of young vegetables. Hey ho! Such is life.. and though a day at the computer wasn’t quite what I’d planned, I can at least be relieved that I mowed the lawn at home yesterday and trimmed the edges, plus finished off planting up all my pots with summer bedding. I also managed to plant out my tomato seedlings – old favourites Sungold and Gardener’s Delight for the tastiest cherry tomatoes and Tigerella, a stripy medium-sized fruit which is new to me this year – in their final resting places, six in tall pots lined up against the sunny back wall of the house and three in the growframe for added protection. So it’s been quite a fruitful weekend really.

This is such a busy time of year, with all the young plants brought on in the conservatory or growframe at home desperate to get out in the big wide world of the allotment. I’ve got squash (Sprinter) and sweetcorn (Lark) with their roots escaping from their pots in their eagerness to expand their horizons. There are a couple of courgettes and cucumbers in the same boat, although germination was patchy for both of these this year. Two cucumbers is ample, in any event, but I’d rather have four courgettes than two – especially when I planted 8 seeds! A friend has come to the rescue with a couple of round courgette seedlings – and no doubt I shall look back and smile when faced with the inevitable glut later in the year…

I’d hoped to finally plant my runner bean and climbing French bean seeds too; I used to start these off inside, but several years of having them whipped to shreds by strong winds or decimated by slugs soon after planting out in early June made me realise it was better to sow the seeds straight out in the open at this time of year. More salad/herb seeds are also due to go in – the coriander I planted earlier has been munched to non-existence by those dratted slugs, despite the nematodes, although the dill and lettuce are fine.

As the rain beats a refrain on the conservatory roof, I certainly won’t be getting anything of note done outside today! I will, however, walk my long-suffering hounds down to the allotment and bring back yet more asparagus for dinner, and possibly some baby broad beans too. I picked my first beans the other day, just the size of a fingernail when podded – delicious in a prawn, asparagus, mint and fennel cream sauce with pasta. And despite the arrival of asparagus beetle, a pest I’ve never come across before in the 6 or so years I’ve had the asparagus bed, the asparagus has been ridiculously prolific this year. I’ve taken to scrutinising the plants at close quarters when I go down and gleefully crushing any beetles I find: they look at first glance like little harlequin ladybirds in Burberry overcoats, but when you look closer you realise they’re longer and thinner, not unlike a lily beetle – and with the same irritating habit of landing (invisibly) upside down if you knock them off inadvertently. The eggs are like little dark thorns sticking out of the foliage, and I’ve been squishing those too. As an organic gardener, I’m loath to spray, but this method, while laborious, does seem to be controlling the problem – if it’s not one thing, it’s something else! Image

Beetles, slugs and weather notwithstanding, here’s a suggestion for using up some asparagus – should you be lucky enough to have a glut!

 Asparagus, Yellow Pepper & Onion Tart

1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry

Bunch of asparagus

I onion

1 yellow pepper

Bunch of mint

Bunch of fennel

1 egg

2 tbsp crème fraiche

Seasoning

Olive oil to drizzle

Roll out the pastry to the size of your baking tray. I used half one of those frozen packs of pastry (375g, I think) and rolled out to double the size, so it was nice and thin. Cut a fine line, not quite going through to the base about 1 cm in all around the edge.

Caramelise your onion until soft and golden, then add the yellow pepper, sliced. Mix the beaten egg and 2 tbsp crème fraiche in a small bowl, then spread over the pastry base. Scatter the cooked onion and pepper mixture over the base and carefully place the trimmed asparagus stems on top. Season and scatter with chopped herbs. 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 with salad.

Heavenly!

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