Showing posts with label asparagus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label asparagus. Show all posts

Recipe: Cheering spears – Asparagus and pearl barley risotto

Asparagus & pearl barley risotto.
Flavoursome asparagus and barley.
Last Friday was a sad day for anyone who, like me, strives to cook with seasonal British vegetables. “How so?” you may ask. Well, it’s because 21 June marks the official end to the British asparagus season. I love cooking with, and eating, asparagus. In bunches, the bright green spears look almost like mini modernist sculptures rather than plants, and their sweet, earthy taste is completely unlike any other vegetable.

I always endeavour to make the utmost use of UK asparagus when it is available, as springtime recipe posts on Scrumptious Scran bare testament. At around two months, this vegetable’s season is akin to a culinary firework display – dazzling, but all too short. Maybe it's pig-headedness on my part, but even though imported asparagus is now available year-round, my tendency is to avoid this. I simply don’t agree with flying food thousands of miles, just to ensure this is can be purchased when its UK equivalent is no longer in season. Plus, and I don’t think it is a psychosomatic bias on my part, but asparagus from South America just doesn’t seem to have the depth of flavour of that grown in Britain.

So, to mark the passing of the 2013 season, I decided to cook a dish that would be a celebration – or maybe a wake – for one of my favourite ingredients. My inspiration came from a dish I watched Suzanne O’Connor – Head Chef at The Scottish Café and Restaurant – prepare at the recent Slow Food event held at Edinburgh’s Summerhall. Suzanne cooked an original take on risotto, featuring peas, broad beans, mint and parmesan, but which substituted the quintessential Scottish ingredient of pearl barley, in place of rice.

Recipe: Spring fresh – Sautéed monkfish cheeks, with salsa verde, and asparagus and broad bean salad

Sauteed monkfish cheeks with salsa verde.
Green and tasty.
For me, spring is one of my favourite times for cooking with seasonal produce. Don’t get me wrong, I also love autumn for its rich abundance of fruit, vegetables, fish and meat. Yet after a long winter – where the choice of fresh produce can be limited – there is something revitalising about being able to once again cook with a harvest of fresh, green ingredients.

So having purchased some “just from the sea” fresh monkfish cheeks from Clark Brothers fishmongers, I decided to keep things clean-tasting by simply sautéing the fish and pairing it with a salad of spring vegetables and vibrant green salsa verde. This classic, Italian sauce makes a great accompaniment for meat and fish, with the fresh flavours of the parsley and basil being complimented by savoury background tones provided by the capers and anchovy, and the acidity of the lemon juice.

For the salad, I turned once again to British asparagus – I always try and make the most of this vegetable during its all too short season – matching this with the first of this season’s tender broad beans, and roast baby plum tomatoes. I also added a few toasted walnuts to provide some crunch and flavour contrast to the zippy freshness of the other salad ingredients.

With all those fresh flavours this certainly is a recipe that should put a spring to anyone’s step.

(This recipe should serve four as a substantial lunch or light supper)

Recipe: Quaking baking - Crab and asparagus tart

Crab and asparagus tart.
Crab and asparagus tart with a crisp green salad.
I have a confession - possibly a shocking one, for a foodie. I’m a bit nervous when it comes to baking. With the popularity of the likes of The Great British Bake Off, it might appear a bit strange that an alleged foodie is intimidated by making bread and cakes; baking is so in vogue, after all.

Given my upbringing, this shouldn’t really be the case. My grandmother was a fantastic baker. She lived right next to my primary school, and I would always call round on the way home to be greeted by the smell of cupcakes fresh out of the oven, or – my particular favourite – a slice of freshly cooked apple pie. And this being the 1970s there was no resorting to packet cake mixes or pre-prepared pastry. My gran made everything by hand in a tiny kitchen, and without the assistance of a food processor.

Given how much I love cooking I don’t know why baking causes me such trepidation. Maybe it’s the control freak in me. Whereas with a casserole, roast or risotto you can keep checking how things are progressing; basting here, adjusting the seasoning there, but with baking it’s much more of a leap of faith. Ingredients are assembled, in common with any recipe, but bear little resemblance to how the finished dish should turn out, and there is no opportunity to sample and adjust things once the bread, cake, or tart is dispatched to the oven for the heat to work its alchemy.

So I thought it was time I pushed my cooking envelope, as it were, and did a wee bit of baking for the blog. Also, as my recipes to date have been pretty carnivorous, I also thought I would cook a shellfish and vegetable-based dish, proving to my pescatarian friend Christine – the women behind the excellent Vegemite on Oatcakes foodie blog – that my cooking isn’t just about meat.

Sticking to my guns in terms of trying to use seasonal ingredients wherever possible, I decided to have a bash at Valentine Warner’s mouth-watering recipe for crab and asparagus tart. All ingredients were purchased from Edinburgh Farmers’ Market (bar the flour and butter for the short crust pastry) – see my previous post for a spotlight on suppliers. For a vegetarian alternative, the crab could be substituted for a flavoursome, but not too sharp, cheese such as Emmental. This will complement the asparagus without overwhelming it.

So was my baking apprehension justified? Well, combined with a green salad the tart was delicious, with sweet/savory crab and the fresh – yet earthy – asparagus being perfect partners. So much so that the slice I had earmarked for today’s lunch was snaffled by my other half. Maybe I should bake more often…