Spring marks English asparagus season; the only time in the year when asparagus really tastes at its best. Chef and food writer, Gill Meller explains why we need to make the most of its short season with his breakfast asparagus recipe paired with ‘Hollandaise’ dippy eggs and British charcuterie.
“Look for firm, snappy spears with tight tips and a bright green colour”, says Gill
We are now in asparagus season. A time of year I always look forward too. The appearance of this sweet emerald-green spear coincides with spring proper. When the elder revives the hedgerow and the ash and the beech buds burst over dappled bluebell carpets.
Its timely arrival is a precursor for a whole host of new, exciting seasonal ingredients. Blackcurrants, broad beans, radishes, raspberries… foods I haven’t eaten since last year, and which is precisely what makes them so special.
For many of us, seasonal cooking and eating isn’t the be-all-and-end-all, but I do like to encourage people to think about where their food comes from. Air-freighting and shipping unseasonal ingredients from halfway round the world has a significant impact on the environment. We might also be overlooking some wonderful produce our own local farmers and growers are harvesting, which seems a shame on lots of levels.
Why seasonal asparagus is best
From the minute asparagus are harvested, the delicate spears start to deteriorate. All the precious natural sugars found in the plant start to convert to starch so the longer they sit around the less sweet they become. Seasonal, local asparagus really is best.
When you’re buying asparagus look out for firm, snappy spears with tight tips and a bright green colour. If you look at the base of the cut stem it shouldn’t look overly dry, cracked and grey, it should look moist and fresh, like it was cut yesterday!
For the sweetest asparagus, buying them in season really is best.
You should be able to find really great locally grown asparagus right through to the end of June. If it’s British it’ll always say on the label. Right now Farmdrop are sending out some of the freshest asparagus I’ve tasted. They pride themselves on cutting down that all-important ‘field to plate’ travel time to an absolute minimum.
How to cook with asparagus
Whether you decide to serve your asparagus raw, as part of a crunchy crudités platter, with a rich lemony mayonnaise or lightly steamed and buttered with a few seared scallops, asparagus is a treat that is most often enjoyed at lunchtime or supper. But given the season is so short I think we should be making the most of it 24/7.
In my breakfast asparagus recipe, I’m pairing it up with some British charcuterie. Despite its continental connections, excellent artisanal charcuterie is being made on a relatively small scale much closer to home, using free-range meats reared in an ethical and respectful way.
I’m afraid we just can’t say the same for much of the cured meat we import from various parts of Europe. I’ve been making my own air-dried ham and coppa (a cured muscle from the top of a pig’s shoulder) for years and banging the drum for how good it can be, so I’m pleased to see others are doing the same.
Photography: Gill Meller
Capreolus Fine Foods, based a stone’s throw from where I live in Dorset work closely with a number of local farmers who produce animals to the highest welfare standards. The meat is cured using fresh herbs and spices and slowly dried until the flavours develop and the texture reaches perfection. Black Hand Foods based in London only use traditional breeds of pork, mostly Gloucester Old Spots and Berkshires which have had led a long, happy life. This means that they will have put down a lot more fat and have a much deeper flavour than other intensively reared, shorter lived, non-native herds.
I’ve decided to use some of Black Hand’s beautiful coppa in this simple yet super delicious breakfast dish inspired by something I used to make at River Cottage. It’s a kind of fun take on dippy eggs, asparagus, hollandaise and bacon all muddled up. Breakfast, lunch or supper; you get the best of everything this way.
– 2 eggs
– 10-12 English asparagus spears
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
– 2-3 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
– 10-12 slices of coppa
– unsalted butter
– cider vinegar
1. Set a heavy-ridged grill pan over a high heat and bring a small pan of water to the boil for the eggs.
2. Snap the woody base from each of the asparagus spears, trickle over the olive oil and season them with salt and pepper.
3. Place them in the hot ridged pan to cook. At the same time, pop the eggs into the boiling water and cook for 4.5 minutes. Turn the asparagus once or twice; by the time the eggs are ready the asparagus will be too.
4. Lift the eggs out of the water and sit them in their egg cups on their respective plates.
5. Lift the asparagus onto a board and sprinkle over the thyme leaves, rolling them so they stick.
6. Wrap each chargrilled spear in a piece of coppa and set them down beside the eggs.
7. To eat, crack the egg and remove the top to reveal the runny yolk. Drop a little butter onto the yolk, followed by a few drops of cider vinegar and season with some salt and pepper. Stir and dip the asparagus through the yolk and eat. Repeat until everything is gone.
For bang-in-season English asparagus, local charcuterie and farm-fresh eggs, go to farmdrop.com.
What do you want to know about seasonal cooking? Post your questions below!