Tender, sweet and delicate – asparagus just can’t be beaten. For an organic farmer though, asparagus is the ultimate challenge with weeds being the major problem. Asparagus’ tall wispy foliage never casts enough shade to supress weeds, while its unruly growth habit makes row cultivation difficult. For the cook however, it is a delight and an iconic marker of the start of another season. At Riverford, we start with the best of the early season organic asparagus from Spain, before moving on to the start of the English season at the end of April.
My top tip for prepping asparagus is to hold the stalk at either end and bend it gently. It will break naturally at the point where the stalks become woody. There’s no need to waste the bases – they add a lovely flavour to homemade stock.
Here are our top five recipe picks to make the most of this seasonal star:
ASPARAGUS, SPINACH & LENTIL SALAD WITH HAZELNUTS & WOOTTON WHITE
This is a simple and nourishing dish, making a veg hero of asparagus. A bed of lentils and new potatoes are topped with roasted asparagus and one of our favourite cheeses, Wootton White, a British sheep’s cheese that’s made in the same way as feta, for a tangy flourish. Toasted hazelnuts finish it off for a satisfying crunch.
ASPARAGUS, POTATO & SPELT PIZZA WITH COURGETTE & ROCKET SALAD
New potatoes, asparagus, red onion, courgette, rosemary and more top this satisfying spring pizza. A very hot oven and a restrained hand with the toppings are the key to a good end result. The temptation is to load it with all kinds of goodies, but the deeper the toppings, the soggier the result and the longer the cooking time. I suggest turning the toppings in a dash of oil so that they roast on the pizza rather than scorch in the intense heat.
A classic Italian dish, using any seasonal spring veg. Here we’ve chosen asparagus, broad beans and spring onions, adding a fresh herby hit to finish off the dish. The onion, celery and carrot trinity are known in Italian as ‘soffritto’ (literally, ‘slow-fried’); they give a good flavour base to any risotto, soup or stew. The two minute wait at the end, stirring in butter and Parmesan to finish is known as the ‘mantecura’; it adds the final creamy touch to the dish.
See full Risotto Primavera recipe.
ASPARAGUS & PORTOBELLO NOODLES
A quick, satisfying bowl of egg noodles in a soy and hoisin sauce, with ginger, garlic and chilli and seasonal veg asparagus. Portobello mushrooms, cashew nuts and coriander finish it off nicely. The cooking for this dish is done at such a pace that it is vital to have all your ingredients prepared and to hand before you start, preferably in the order they are to be used.
See full Asparagus & Portobello Noodles recipe.
ASPARAGUS & PERL LAS BLUE TART
This vegetarian tart pairs asparagus with many of its foodie friends; blue cheese, eggs, nuts, fennel and citrus. We’ve suggested serving them with a fennel, orange and hazelnut salad, but any salad you have to hand would work.
See full Asparagus & Perl Las Blue Tart recipe.