Tag Archives: Asparagus

A Picnic on Public Transport

Asparagus and Potato Tart

Tarted Up Leftovers

The Big Guy and I are seasoned travellers. If you live in a different country from either of your families, you have to get used to the rhythm of packing, transport, and departure times. Where we can, we take the train; it has a much better rhythm – with a continuity of movement, both in terms of the motion of the carriages, and because there is no hanging about in a departure lounge, or being forced through an array of harshly lit shops. The train gets you where you need to be without fuss; you have space to sit comfortably and to move around.

One of the things that we haven’t got the rhythm of is taking our own food. Although, I do know exactly where all the best places to buy food along the journey are. We have recently returned from one such trip abroad, although this time, we had a leg of the journey on a coach. It was OK, but I will be glad if they ever sort out the troubles on trains run by a certain rail company, which has been unable to run for far too long now.

We decided that we should be better prepared for this journey. Since our usual rhythm was interrupted, I could not guarantee getting to my favourite pit stops. I also had a few ingredients in the fridge that wouldn’t last until we returned. So, the obvious choice was to make something to take with us. A picnic, of sorts.

I had a little of the salad, some cream and some eggs that needed using up from the dinner I made for friends, and a few last sprigs of chervil. As so often happens, the day before I was leaving I woke up and knew that these would be perfect in a tart, with some goat’s cheese. We could have some for dinner that evening, and then we could take the rest as a picnic for the coach the next day.

Like many of the best laid plans, the idea for a nice goat cheese went a bit awry. It was a bank holiday, and none of the usual shops were open, so I had to dispatch the Big Guy to the supermarket. Unfortunately, all they had in the way of goat cheese was some presliced stuff, that could have been any generic cheese. It certainly never has the tang of goat that I was looking for in this dish. Fortunately, he returned with some sharp, crumbly feta instead. This was a much better option, it needed to match the asparagus.

The tart was tasty, filling and survived the journey. So did the salad we had with it, because we dressed it en route from a small jar. This is my top tip for picnic salads – if you dress it before you travel, the salad will cook in the acid, and you will be left with a container full of flaccid disappointment.

Cheese Please blog badgeFour Seasons Food Challenge Chez Foti & Delicieux

I know I have entered my dishes into a lot of blog hops lately, but I couldn’t resist entering this recipe into the inaugural Cheese Please Challenge, hosted by Fromage Homage. Then I heard about the inaugural Four Seasons Food, dreamed up by Anneli at Delicieux and Louisa at Chez Foti. This dish is so apt for both.

This was my perfect public transport picnic, and I didn’t waste anything in my fridge. I’d love to hear what appears on your picnic blanket, or even coach seat when you make food for on the go.

Recipe: Asparagus and Potato Tart

Ingredients

For the Pastry: 

100 g plain flour

50 g cold salted butter

Really good grinding of black pepper

1 egg yolk

For the Filling:

100 ml cream

4 eggs

small bunch chervil, very finely chopped

100 g of leftover asparagus salad, or 3-4 small salad potatoes and 5 asparagus spears cooked until just tender, and cut into 5 cm chunks

2 spring onions, sliced finely

90 g feta cheese

Method

Season the flour. I wanted this pastry to taste peppery, the rest of the tart can hold its own. Don’t be afraid of adding  more pepper than you think.

Rub the cold butter (it needs to be fridge temperature) into the seasoned flour until you have a breadcrumb consistency. Add the egg yolk and bring together into a dough. If you need to, you can add a little bit of cold milk to make it all come together. Add a splash at a time.

Form a disc with the dough, and cover it with cling film or foil, and leave it to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes to an hour.

Heat the oven to 200°C. Roll the pastry out thinly on a floured surface. Carefully line a greased flan case with the pastry, and press into the sides or fluting with a small offcut of pastry in a ball, to avoid any tears or holes, you don’t want the filling to leak and burn on the bottom.

Prick the bottom of the pastry all over with a fork. Line the pastry with greaseproof paper, and add a good layer of blind bake – this can be ceramic beans, dried beans or rice – to give some weight help keep it flat and thin. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the pastry looks dry and is beginning to brown on the sides. Remove the blind bake, and put back in the oven to allow the pastry to cook all over to a light golden colour.

While the pastry is browning, whisk together the cream, eggs, and chervil.

Once the tart case is cooked, remove and turn the oven down to 180°C.

Pick the salad over to remove any leftover capers and cornichons. Scatter the rest over the tart case, so that you get pretty even cover. Then scatter over the spring onions and crumble the feta around, again, so that the coverage is quite even.

Pour the eggs and cream over the rest of the filling, shaking the case a little, to ensure even distribution. Return it to the oven and bake for a further 30-40 minutes, or until the centre is just set, but still has a little wobble if you shake it.

As with all quiches, this is great served hot or cold, but if you want to serve it warm, let it rest for about 10 minutes after it comes out of the oven, so that the filling does not ooze all over the plate.

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First in, Best Dressed

Asparagus Salad, Chervil Dressing and Asparagus Mousse-Stuffed Chicken Ballotine

Made for Each Other

I may have already mentioned how inspired I was by the Rollende Keukens (only once or twice…). I ate so many good things there, that I am now experimenting with.

Nestled in amongst the stalls, was the Bar d’Asperge, which sold all manner of brilliant dishes with asparagus; from the Dutch classic – white asparagus with ham, egg and a bechamel sauce, to grilled green asparagus, pasta salad and all manner of other things. I was in search of something on the healthier side to counterbalance all the barbecued goodies that the Big Guy was queueing for. We were both also hungry, so I wanted something substantial, too.

Asparagus Salad with a Delicious sour cream & chervil dressing

A Healthy Option – Fresh Asparagus Salad

I came across this lovely salad, which contained potatoes, white and green asparagus, mushrooms, capers and cornichons. As the lady served it to me, she smothered it in a dressing, casually mentioning it was home-made. It was good – creamy, rich and spiked with chervil. Asparagus and chervil: if ever a herb were meant to go with a vegetable, it would have to be these two.

I tried many things at the Rollende Keukens, but to be honest, I don’t remember much else from the first day that I went there. This salad, and this sauce have consumed the rest of my memories. I knew I had to recreate it, and I knew that I would need to do a bit of research first. A lot of the sauces I looked at were stock based, and thickened with cream. This dressing certainly had sour cream, but was sharper and fresher than that.

I thought that you would need the thickness of a mayonnaise to give the sauce its consistency. I also knew that a shop-bought mayonnaise would make it too claggy. Then I remembered that it was perfectly possible to make mayonnaise yourself, and I could make it at the thickness that I felt appropriate. And so, a homemade mayonnaise with a neutral-tasting oil was my starting point, and it went really well from there.

This salad, and the sauce went perfectly with the chicken ballotines that I stuffed with asparagus mousse. I am not a fan of white asparagus, so I left it out. The original salad also had silverskin onions in. I am not a huge fan of these, either, as I prefer the sharp tang of a home-made pickled onion to the sweetness of these tiny alliums.

I hope that you have a go at this sauce, I know a lot of people are put off by making a mayonnaise, but with this amount of oil, there shouldn’t be a problem, as long as you add the oil in very small amounts, and whisk it well in between so that it all of the oil is incorporated into the emulsion before you add the next lot.

Herbs on Saturday Blog Badge

As this dish makes use of one of my favourite herbs, I’m entering it into Herbs on Saturday, by Karen at Lavender and Lovage, which is being hosted this month by Anneli at Delicieux. You probably won’t come across chervil in the supermarkets, so look out for it at markets and farm shops. Or, even better, get hold of some seeds; it is one of the easiest of all of the herbs to grow from seed, the flavour is more intense, it has beautiful white flowers that are also tasty and will seed itself quite happily – if you don’t eat all the flowers first.

Asparagus Salad and Chervil Dressing

This recipe serves 4 people

For the Dressing:

1 egg yolk

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Lemon juice to taste

100 ml sunflower oil

100 g sour cream

15 g chervil, finely chopped

salt

For the Salad:

The proportions that I mention here are approximate. You can also adjust or add to your taste, things such as silverskin onions, hard-boiled egg, different mushrooms (Morels would be great if you can find them), spring onions, and probably many other things.

250 g small salad potatoes

100 g chestnut mushrooms

400 g asparagus (white, green or both)

2 tbsp capers

50 g cornichons

Chervil leaves to garnish

First make the dressing. Start with an egg yolk in a mixing bowl. Add the Dijon mustard, a pinch of salt and a good squeeze of lemon juice, and whisk together well. I did this by hand, because the heat from a food processor or stick blender is enough to scramble one egg yolk. You need a little lemon juice, because the you are essentially making an emulsion, and the acid helps to stabilise it, and stop it splitting. Don’t worry if you don’t think it is enough, you can add more later.

Then slowly add the oil, a little at a time. Make sure that it is well incorporated into the egg before you add more. Keep doing this until the oil is finished, or you think that you have a fairly thick mayonnaise. The exact amount that you’ll need will depend on the size and the age of the yolk.

Once you have a thick mayonnaise, whisk in the sour cream. Stir in the chervil. Season with salt, and taste to see if it is sharp enough for your tastes. If it isn’t, squeeze some more lemon juice into the mix. Set aside to allow the flavour to develop.

Boil the potatoes until they are just tender. Drain and set aside to cool.

Cut the mushrooms into quarters, grind over some black pepper and salt, and fry in a little oil or butter until the mushrooms have given up their moisture.

Break off the woody ends from the asparagus, and cut into 5 cm chunks. Blanche in boiling water for no more than 3 minutes, you want the asparagus to retain some bite. Refresh in iced water, or by running the pieces under a cold tap. Drain, and add to a salad bowl.

Cut the potatoes in half. I did mine on the diagonal for interestingly shaped salad. Add to the salad bowl, along with the mushrooms, capers and asparagus. If the cornichons are really tiny, add them whole. If they are slightly larger cut them in half lengthways, or into large chunks. Stir well.

Serve garnished with chervil leaves and with a generous helping of the dressing.

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A Mousse Ate In a Windmill (In Old Amsterdam)

Asparagus Mousse and soft poached egg on sourdough toast

Twist on a Breakfast Classic

This year is the first year that I have been able to harvest my own asparagus. As you must, I planted four crowns two years ago, and it has been an agonising wait. I also thought that I’d been a little over zealous with the first harvest. I waited until I had a good few stalks, and before they got too long, then I plucked them all with the eagerness of a beaver who had just been presented with his own river that runs through a hardwood forest. I had the first batch simply steamed, and accompanied by a soft-boiled egg.

And then I waited. And waited. And the anxiety rose. And I started to worry that, having waited so long to crop them, I had been too impatient or greedy and that I would have to plant more crowns and wait another 2 years.

Asparagus Shoots Coming Anew in My Garden

Hope Springs Eternal

And then I went into the garden this morning, and was delighted to find this stalk poking its way through the soil and mulch. I will have more home-grown asparagus again this year, after all.

I had a few friends round to dinner at the weekend, which coincided with my panicky dearth of my own asparagus. But, I really wanted to  make asparagus the star of my main course, given that it is only with us for such a short time. So I dreamed up a main course that consisted of an asparagus salad, and a ballotine of chicken, stuffed with asparagus mousse. I have to admit, the food was lovely, seasonal and fresh, but my ballotine-making skills definitely require honing. They were not the most beautiful, and one or two lost some of the stuffing. But my guests enjoyed them, so I guess that is what matters.

Chicken Breast Stuffed with Asparagus Mousse

A Total Farce!

I also made far too much mouse for the number of chicken breasts (and, indeed, guests) I had. So, the next morning, I cooked up the rest in a water bath, and had it for breakfast on some sourdough toast and topped with a poached egg. It was a great breakfast. I can also imagine this mousse served as a starter, with crayfish, or maybe even lobster, if you want to push the boat out.

Simple and in Season Blog BadgeOne Ingredient, Asparagus How To Cook Good Food Blog Badge

I can’t get enough asparagus at this time of the year, and of course, there is never any waste, because I always use the woodier ends to make soup. I can eat them simply, or in recipes. But I’m always looking out for new recipes to make and to inspire. We have a few more weeks of the season left, so if you have some great asparagus recipes, link them up in the comment section. I’m also entering this into Ren Behan’s Simple and in Season, since there is nothing more seasonal than asparagus right now; and into One Ingredient, hosted this month by Laura at How To Cook Good Food since it is really appropriate right now.

Recipe: Asparagus Mousse

Ingredients

700 g asparagus

2 small shallots, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, sliced thinly

1 tbsp oil

100 ml cream

2 eggs

20 g chervil

Plenty of salt and pepper

Method

Remove any woody ends from the asparagus, by gently snapping them. As I have mentioned, no need to waste this bit, it may not be good to chew in a dish, but makes a great soup, or you can add it to vegetable stock, for an additional chlorophyl hit.

Cut the asparagus spears into 3-5 cm lengths, and blanch in boiling water for about 2-3 minutes, depending on the width of the stalks. Refresh immediately under a running tap, or in iced water. You don’t want them to continue cooking, as they do cook for longer later in the process.

Soften the shallots and the garlic in the oil, until they are translucent. Keep them moving, so they do not catch. I always find that shallots will burn much quicker than onions. Once they are done, blend up with the asparagus, and the roughly chopped chervil. If you want to be really cheffy, you’d blend them then pass them through a drum sieve or something similarly fine. I am less cheffy, and was perfectly happy to have a bit of texture in my mousse, so I blended it up as fine as I could get it in my food processor.

Asparagus mousse of the right consistency for stuffing

Stuffing Thick

Beat the eggs and cream together, and stir in the asparagus mixture. The mixture should be pretty thick for a stuffing, but you could thin it with a little more cream if you intend to make a mousse. Season it really well. It will need it.

Then you can either use it to stuff meat, which should be poached gently in water or stock; or you can put it into greased ramekins or dariole moulds, and cook it in a bain marie until it is just set. The time you need will depend on the size of your mould. It took me about 20 minutes, but I was using pretty large ramekins.

If you have greased your dish well enough, you should be able to turn it out. I did this, but decided that I wanted to serve it on toast, and you’ll find it also spreads nicely.

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The Queen of Tarts

Asparagus & Lancashire Cheese Tart

The Knave of Hearts, He Stole the Tart

When I got some Lancashire Cheese from my foodie penpal, I knew I had the start of a great dish. When the Big Guy brought home what was likely the last bunch of local asparagus that we will see this season, I knew exactly what that dish would be.

Lancashire cheese and asparagus are a marriage made in heaven. The sharp flavour of the cheese would be perfect to go with the chlorophyll hit that you get from seasonal asparagus. Add to this fresh herbs, and put it in a tart, and you really are onto a winner.

Maybe it’s my imagination, but as well as the negative environmental impact, I think that asparagus that has been flown across the world has lost a lot of it’s green flavour. For these reasons, I won’t buy it. Maybe it is also the anticipation of this short-lived season that makes it taste better,  who knows?

I made my own pastry for this. Any offcuts will freeze well, wrapped in greaseproof paper, or you can be economical with the oven, and make a few jam tarts, or even unseasonal mince pies with the offcuts. This is something that I learned from my mother. We would rarely have a pastry dish without her baking some little sweet treat to use it up.

I used chervil and parsley in this recipe, because I grow them both, and I love chervil. If you have difficulty finding chervil, then you can substitute them both for a good bunch of chopped dill.

This quiche was actually better cold, when the cheese really sang out against the asparagus. Making this dish great for a picnic. You know, for when the summer actually arrives…

Asparagus & Lancahshire Cheese Tart

Forget the Knave, Watch out for Teddy Bears…

Recipe: Asparagus and Lancashire Cheese Tart

Ingredients

For the Pastry: 

100 g plain flour

50 g cold butter

Pinch of salt (or just use salted butter)

Cold water, less than 30 ml

For the filling: 

1 bunch of asparagus

100 g shelled weight broad beans

8 eggs, beaten

100 ml cream (or milk)

Small bunch chervil, finely chopped

Small bunch parsley, finely chopped

Salt and pepper (to season egg mix)

100 g Lancashire cheese, grated

Method

Rub butter into flour, until it resembles breadcrumbs. Slowly add the water until it forms a dough. You may not need it all.  It must be cold, not tepid, so it’s best not to measure out the water and let it sit while you rub in the butter. When it has formed a dough, you don’t want to work this too hard, so just shape it into a ball.

Wrap the pastry in clingfilm, foil or a plastic bag, and put in the fridge to rest, for about an hour.

Arrange the asparagus. First, snap off the woody bit at the end of the stem. The point at which it breaks naturally will be where the tender, edible part of the stem starts. This will vary according to how long the asparagus has been cut. Don’t discard these  tough ends, they make a great soup.

Arranging the asparagus spears

Power Arrangement

Cut the asparagus stems to size so that you can arrange them in a wheel around your flan dish. Cook the asparagus spears in boiling salted water for about 3-6 minutes, depending in the width of the spears. Cook the offcuts of the asparagus with the broad beans, in boiling water for a maximum of 2 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. Drain all of the cooked vegetables and run under cold water as soon as they are done. you want them slightly underdone for this dish, as they will cook a bit more in the tart later.

Double-pod the beans, which may seem like a pain, but will be worth it later.

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Grease a flan dish. I have a silicone one, but you may prefer a metal one with a loose bottom, either are good.

Roll out the pastry evenly, to about 1mm thick. Carefully slip it over the rolling pin, and line the flan dish with it. Cut a bit of the excess pastry from over the edge of the dish, and form a ball with it. Use this to gently press the pastry into the corners, and any fluted edges that you may have on the flan dish. This is thin pastry, and  will be using a liquid filling, so you want to avoid  putting holes in it, or the filling will leak, and burn. Using the dough ball, and not your fingers (especially not the nails) will help prevent tears and holes.

You can either trim the pastry to the edge of your flan dish, or leave a bit of an overhang. Pastry will shrink when it cooks, so I prefer to leave an overhang, which I trim off after the blind bake.

I sometimes coat the warm pastry trimmings in a light dusting of icing sugar and serve as a sweet snack. I can’t bear to throw away any of the edible things!

If you choose to trim the pastry, then you will need to gently pinch it up between your thumb and forefinger, to raise it above the sides of the flan dish, thus compensating for shrinkage (difficult to accomplish if your pastry is thin enough).

Now you need to blind bake the pastry case. Gently prick all over the base with a fork, as evenly spaced as you  can, without going through the pastry. Cut some greaseproof paper so that it overlaps the pie dish by about 3 cm each side. Scrunch up the greaseproof, as if you were scrunching up a piece of paper that you were about to put in a wastepaper basket. This will help the paper to line the pastry case and get into the corners and fluting better. Put an even coating of blind baking materials in the pastry case, on top of the spread out grease proof paper. Both the pricking and the blind bake will help prevent the pastry from rising, during the initial baking process.

You can get special ceramic beads for your blind bake, but these are expensive. It is cheaper to use dried beans from your store cupboard,or at a push a thick layer of rice. Beans are better, because you can still cook with them after they have been used as blind bake, and  they are heavier than rice. Once the rice has been used as blind bake, it can’t be cooked, so re-use it as blind bake.

Put the tart shell, with the blind bake into the oven and allow to cook for at least 10 minutes, or until the pastry case is crisp, and does not have any “damp” patches. Remove the blind bake, and put the tart case back into the oven for about 5 minutes, or until it starts to brown.

If you need to, trim your pastry case at this point. Or leave it, if it doesn’t look too scruffy.

Pastry Case Sealed with Egg Wash

Glazed and Confused

Since you are using a liquid centre, it is a good idea to seal the pastry case, to help prevent leaks. To do this, brush the case with a little of the beaten egg that you are about to use for your filling. Put it back in the oven for a couple of minutes until the egg wash has given the tart case a shiny, browned finish.

Add the cream, chopped herbs and the cheese to the beaten egg, and mix well. Season with a little salt (because the cheese is also salty) and a good grind of pepper.

Sprinkle the beans and asparagus offcuts onto the base of the tart, then arrange your larger spears over the top in your desired design.

Pour over the filling, and give the tart a shake, to make sure that the filling is evenly distributed in the case.

Place back in the centre of the oven, cook for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 160°C. Cook for a further 30 minutes, or until the filling is just cooked, but retains a little wobble.

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Aussie Christmas dinner

Moreton Bay Bugs & Thai Salad

Alternative Christmas Dinner

We are in Australia. Posting may be sporadic, but I do want to do my Christmas dinner, and custard based recipes. I may well leave the acceptable way with sprouts post, that I have not really written yet, to next Christmas now!

Anyway, this year we are having Christmas by ourselves in Cairns. An Aussie Christmas has to have seafood, and should also include a barbecue somewhere in the proceedings. We were very lucky indeed, and also had access to a pool and an entire rainforest to ourselves, since no one else was about. All in all, it was a pretty brilliant day.

We were lucky enough to get hold of some Moreton Bay Bugs, which are actually a kind of slipper lobster. Most Moreton Bay Bugs are caught as by-catch from the prawn and scallop fishing industries, both of which are trawled for. Trawling is a highly destructive practice, resulting in a lot of unintended species netted (bycatch) and destruction of the sea bed. The Australian Marine Conservation Society urges you to ‘Think Twice‘ before eating them, largely as a result of the catch method involved. We found a fish market that claimed that they were sustainably caught. It is possible to scuba dive for these, as it is for scallops, but these are very difficult to find.

Moreton Bay Bugs

Green Bugs

Anyway, if you do get them, you need green (uncooked) bugs if you want to barbecue them. They cannot live long out of water, and spoil much quicker than crabs or lobster, so this may not be easy. Never reheat them, so if all you can get is cooked, just eat them cold.

In North Queensland, fresh (and ripe!) tropical fruits are sold all over the place. They are cheap and plentiful. I had been thinking that mango, papaya, chili and lime would be perfect partners for the sweetness of the bugs, which naturally leads you to Thai flavours. They typically use green papaya, and I only had ripe, but I made do with what I had.

I hope that I am not one for boasting, but the result was really good. I was very proud of our tasty little Christmas Dinner.

I have given the recipe below, but if you cannot find Moreton Bay Bugs, you could substitute with scallops, langoustines, or even lobster if you are feeling decadent! Just please check out how they are caught, and try to get sustainably caught and managed fish where you can – the ocean is an important source of food for us, and keeps a lot of communities going, but only if we look after it well. Something which is sadly not happening too much these days.Your local Marine Conservation Society can help  give you an idea of fish stocks and some sustainably managed areas (although their system is not perfect). If you don’t have this, then organisations like Greenpeace can tell you which species to avoid altogether.

If you can’t or won’t get any of these, just have the salad – it is really tasty on its own.

Recipe: Moreton Bay Bugs and Vietnamese Salad

Ingredients

Moreton Bay Bugs – 3 per person

For the salad dressing:

1 small hot chilli (eg bird’s eye)

2 cloves garlic

4 tbsp lime juice

4 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)

1 tbsp soft brown sugar

1 tbsp coriander stalks

1 tbsp mint leaves

For the salad:

Mixed salad leaves

Asparagus

Cucumber

Beansprouts

Coriander leaves

Mint leaves

Papaya

Chopped, unsalted peanuts

For the noodles:

1 pack noodles

1 spring onion

chopped chilli

lime vinaigrette

Method

Make the salad dressing. Mix the lime, fish sauce and the sugar, until the sugar has dissolved. Mince the garlic using your knife, deseed the chilli (or leave them in if you like things really hot) and chop it finely. Chop the coriander stalks and mint leaves as finely as you can. Add all of these to the lime mix, and taste for balance, you may need to add a touch more lime or chilli, to your taste. Set aside for the flavours to develop.

A short period of time in the freezer should be enough to kill the bugs humanely. Slice the bugs in half, lengthways, with a sharp knife. You will then need to clean the digestive tract and the head.

Make the salad, by mixing up the salad leaves, a good bunch of coriander, a handful of mint leaves, and julienned cucumber and papaya. Wash the beansprouts well, before adding them, and blanch the asparagus, and cut the stalks into 3-4 pieces, on the angle. I would also have added grated carrot, but we managed to lose the carrots somewhere between the shop and home, so no carrots for us.  Mix together well, and set aside.

Oil the flesh of the bugs, with a squeeze of lime, and place on a hot barbecue, flesh side down for about 8 minutes. Then flip them to colour the shells. They are done when the flesh becomes opaque.

Meanwhile, make the noodles according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Thinly slice the spring onion and the chilli and add to the vinaigrette. I had a very simple lime vinaigrette left over from the previous day’s lunch, but you can make up your own with 1 part lime juice to 3 parts olive oil. Leave the chilli and the onion to macerate to take the raw edge off them. When the noodles are cooked, drain, and pour over the vinaigrette, and mix well, so that the noodles don’t stick.

When everything is cooked, dress the salad with the dressing you made earlier, and toss together well. Plate up the noodles and the salad, and sprinkle with chopped, unsalted peanuts. Serve with the warm bugs, and a cold glass of wine. Next to a pool in the tropics, by preference.

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Asparagus Soup

As a child, I didn’t eat many vegetables. As an adult, I eat many more, and I love to eat seasonally. This is why you will probably often hear me saying that such-and-such a vegetable is my favourite. It would probably be more accurate to say that such-and-such a vegetable is my favourite right now.

At the moment we are into the asparagus season, and it is cheap and plentiful. And right now, asparagus is my favourite vegetable.I eat it with eggs, in salads, on its own with butter, in risottos – you name it.

In general, the bottom end of the stalk becomes tough and woody, so it is best to cut, or snap it off. I really hate throwing food away, especially something as tasty as asparagus. So,  I decided to try to use these woody stalky bits up.

Soup is the obvious answer. First, I tried to blend it in a food processor, but this just resulted in smaller woody bits in the soup. I also have a food mill, and one day I tried it through that, and it turned out that the low tech version was the best, since the woody bits are not passed through the mill. I really recommend these – I picked mine up for a tenner back in the UK, and I use it weekly.

This year I planted my own asparagus, and freshly cut asparagus should not have the woody stalky bits. I wonder if this soup will continue to feature in my spring repertoire? I hope so, it really is good!

The following recipe varies in amounts, depending on how many stalks you have been saving in the fridge. The stalks will keep for up to 10 days (depending on age when you bought them, and the width of the stalks), so you can save them up from a couple of bunches to get a good amount, if you like.

Recipe: Asparagus Soup

Ingredients

1 chopped onion

1 tbsp olive oil

Asparagus stalk ends

Chicken or vegetable stock

Thyme

Crème fraiche (cream or milk would also work)

Method

Sweat the onion and thyme in the olive oil, until the onion is fairly soft, but not coloured.

Add the asparagus to the pan, and cook until it has turned a vibrant green

Add the stock. You need to allow enough stock to cover the vegetables in the pot by a couple of cm.

Bring to the boil, then simmer until the stalks are tender to the point of a knife. The time for this can be anything from 5 minutes for the really thin stalks, up to 20 minutes for the later season asparagus.

Take off the heat and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. Then, pass through the food mill into a clean pan.

Add a little crème fraiche. Again, the amount you add will depend on the amount of soup that you have. Season with salt and pepper.

This soup can be served hot or cold, especially if you are having a really warm spring/ summer, like the one that we are having now.

If you are serving it cold, add a little water to thin it, allow to cool completely, then refrigerate for an hour or two. Garnish it with croutons, cooked asparagus tips, small dice of cucumber (seeded and peeled), or some of all three. A little chervil can be chopped and stirred through, or used as a garnish as well. Check for seasoning before serving, as cold soup can often need more seasoning that its hot counterpart.

If you want to serve it hot, warm the soup gently, without boiling. The soup can be made ahead of time, and warmed through at a convenient time. Garnish with cooked asparagus tips, chervil, or a dollop or swirl of the crème fraiche. Serve with buttered brown, rye or sourdough bread. I prefer bread, as opposed to toast with the hot version of this soup.

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