Everything in nature seems to grow almost in front of your eyes at the moment. The spring sun entices both us and plants out to enjoy it, but as you may have discovered by optimistically leaving your coat at home, it’s still quite chilly and will be for a while yet.
At this time of year, British-grown hardy greens and root veg keep us going, but the first of our homegrown new season veg is not quite yet ready.
To provide some much-needed variety and excitement during the last part of the UK ‘Hungry Gap’, at Riverford we celebrate the start of the Spanish asparagus season, and also the first of their fresh broad beans.
Working in partnership with organic growers in Spain and on Riverford’s farm in the Vendee area of France means that, although they are geographically pretty close to our coast, the difference in latitude provides warmer, longer days. This brings some welcome additions to veg boxes while UK crops are still emerging, and means there is no use of environmentally-disastrous heated greenhouses or air-freighted produce to bridge this gap.
Asparagus is always so eagerly anticipated and highly sought after. Its subtle flavour is a real delicacy – the fact they grow from dormant plants called ‘crowns’ makes them sound very regal too. A wild plant first cultivated by the Egyptians, it was a Roman delicacy (Julius Caesar is alleged to have eaten asparagus with melted butter). Served at the royal courts of Europe and much loved by Louis XIV, after the 18th Century it was enjoyed by all again, not just nobility.
Interested in growing your own? The RHS has a comprehensive guide here and Garden Organic has tips and factsheets here. If you can get your hands on some asparagus or tender broad beans now, here are some new ideas from Riverford chef Bob Andrew to try:
A quick and addictive dish. This is a snack for two using our standard asparagus bunch size. Be prepared to feel a compulsion to make it again straight away. There is never enough. The trick to light, crisp, gossamer-thin batter is to bring it together just before using and to be quick and carefree in the mixing – the lumps add character and texture. For the full recipe, click here.
Roasted asparagus with hollandaise sauce
A true hollandaise can be a scary and laboured undertaking. This is a speedy version that uses the heat from the melted butter to lightly cook the egg yolks and the brute force of a food processor to bring it all together. Use within 30 mins of making, don’t try and refrigerate or re-use the next day as the egg yolks make it a high-risk food. To try making this recipe, click here.
Spiced broad bean chips
Everyone has their favourite recipes for broad beans, but they all tend to leave you with a big pile of pods. This zero-waste recipe is a tasty way to use them up. They are often presumed to be tough and fibrous, but if prepared in the correct way they are surprisingly tender – find out how here.
Chargrilled spring veg with green sauce and ricotta
A celebration of fresh flavours, this is great to cook outdoors with friends. Bursting with goodness, it combines smoky chargrilled veg with a piquant green sauce, zesty lemon, and creamy ricotta. If you omit the cheese (or use a dairy free alternative) it makes a wonderful vegan dish to share. We have a great Wicked Leeks guide on how to BBQ spring veg for more handy tips, and for the full recipe click here.