I once asked my friend Sudhir Dhanani, who isn't English himself but imports exotic fruits and vegetables from around the world, did he agree? Quite positively, yes! American is good, Peruvian even better, but English wins by a mile.
Once called 'sparrow-grass', but now affectionately known in the trade as simply 'grass', asparagus has a painfully short season in England – just two months, May and June.
So we all need to be on full asparagus alert and make absolutely sure we feast appropriately and not let the season whiz by. Just steam it and pour melted butter over, or some vinaigrette, or just good olive oil with a squeeze of lemon.
Perhaps my own favourite suggestion would be to accompany it with a fluffy, foaming hollandaise, see related recipe below. Or else, as is in this recipe, to encase it in very thin, crisp parcels of puff pastry filled with an Italian fonduta (creamy melted cheese). A lovely starter for a summer's lunch or supper party, followed by salmon for a main course, with strawberries to finish.
Vegetarians my like to know that a vegetarian 'style' Parmesan is available from www.bookhams.com
Serves 8 as a first course
|For the filling:|
|225 g (8 oz) fresh asparagus|
|175 g (6 oz) Fontina, Gruyère or vegetarian Gruyère cheese, in one piece|
|1 rounded tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan (see intro), plus a little extra to sprinkle|
|3 level tablespoons crème fraîche|
|few sprigs watercress, to garnish|
|salt and freshly milled black pepper|
|For the pastry:|
|375 g pack fresh, ready-rolled puff pastry|
|flour, for dusting when rolling|
|2 large egg yolks|
|1 tablespoon milk|
|a little oil, for greasing|
|Oven temperatures and Conversions|
|Click here for information|
|You will also need a large baking tray measuring 16 x 12 in (40 x 30 cm) , lightly oiled.|
This recipe first appeared in Sainsbury's Magazine
First remove the pastry from the fridge and let it come to room temperature (about 10 minutes). Meanwhile, wash the asparagus in cold water, then take each stalk in both hands, and bend and snap off the woody end.
Then, arrange the stalks in an opened fan steamer. Place the steamer in a frying pan or saucepan, pour in about 1 in (2.5 cm) of boiling water from the kettle, then add some salt, put a lid on and steam for 2-3 minutes, or until they feel tender when tested with a skewer.
After that, remove them from the steamer and allow them to cool.
Then dry the stalks with kitchen paper and cut each one into 3, on the diagonal. Next, using a small sharp knife, remove the rind from the Fontina or Gruyère and cut it into ½ in (1 cm) cubes.
Then, in a small bowl, mix the Parmesan and crème fraîche and add some salt and freshly milled black pepper.
Now carefully unroll the sheet of pastry onto a lightly floured work surface and cut it in half. Roll out one half until it measures 12 x 12 in (30 x 30 cm) and then cut that into 4 squares measuring 6 x 6 in (15 x 15 cm) . Then repeat the rolling and cutting with the other piece of pastry, so you end up with 8 squares in all.
Beat the egg yolks with the milk.
Next, you need to carefully brush the edges of 4 of the pastry squares with this mixture. Then divide half of the crème fraîche filling between these 4 pieces of pastry, spooning about a level dessertspoon into the centre of each square.
Next, lay about half the quantity of asparagus on top of the crème fraîche, with several cubes of cheese tucked in-between.
Now pull up the opposite corners of each square to meet in the centre like an envelope. Carefully pinch the seams together to seal them, and make a small hole in the centre of each one to allow the steam to escape. Then, using a fish slice, transfer the parcels to the baking tray and now make the other 4.
Once you have made 8 parcels, cover them with clingfilm and chill until you are ready to cook them.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 6, 400°F (200°C). Then, brush each one with some of the remaining beaten-egg mix and lightly sprinkle each one with some Parmesan.
Bake on a high shelf in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until they are golden brown, and serve them straightaway, garnished with a few sprigs of watercress.
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'A simple but sublime tart' is how Delia describes this lovely tart, which is another mouthwatering way in which to enjoy asparagus, coupled with cream, cheese and eggs. Even the pastry has Cheddar in it for extra flavour!
Make the most of asparagus while it's here - you can even make it into soup, to be served warm or chilled depending on the weather!
Steamed asparagus is wrapped with cheese and ham to produce the most wonderful light meal or starter - a great way to enjoy the short asparagus season in May and June.
Sometimes the idea of the simpler the better makes for cooking success and never more so than in this pared-down recipe for asparagus that would make the most brilliant starter or lunch dish.
These delightful tartlets contain a combination of melted cheese, lightly sautéed asparagus tips and whole, lightly baked eggs. They are simple to prepare and just need popping into the oven 12-15 minutes before they are served.
The marriage of asparagus and hollandaise was quite definitely made in heaven, and it seems sad to me that 'health' issues should bring about a divorce. Therefore I have set out to lighten the sauce somewhat by the addition of stiffly beaten egg whit
This one's a complete doddle and takes no time at all: a new take on this season's asparagus, accompanied by a creamy cheese sauce and freshly poached eggs. Makes you want to become a vegetarian on sight!
This is an excellent way to turn 8 oz (225 g) of asparagus stalks into a substantial supper dish for two people. Vegetarians might like to know that a vegetarian parmesan-style cheese is available from www.bookhamcheese.co.uk
This is a wonderfully easy lunch or supper dish and has all the flavours that go so well with asparagus - cheese and eggs. Vegetarians can use a vegetarian parmesan-style cheese here.
Hollandaise is one of the greatest classic French sauces, plus Delia's version of Foaming Hollandaise
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