Some things never change – there are things when times are tough we can rely on. The seasons changing is one of the reassuring constants that whilst our normal world is on hold, we can take time to appreciate the joy of spring and with that, the amazing seasonal produce comes with it – the almighty asparagus being right at the top of the list.
The asparagus season traditionally starts on St George’s Day on 23 April and runs through to the Summer Solstice on 21 June, although the dates can fluctuate due to sunnier weather conditions. This year is one of those years and we are already starting to see it’s distinctive green spears pop up in veg boxes, farm shops and even on this week’s takeaway menus.
Historically known for its aphrodisiac qualities, asparagus is believed to be pictured in an Egyptian frieze (a long band of painting or sculpture carved or painted directly on the wall) dating back to 3000 BC. The ancient Greeks ate wild asparagus for its tender shoots, but it was the Romans who first started to cultivate asparagus more than 2,000 years ago. Julius Caesar is alleged to have eaten asparagus with melted butter – something we can get on board with!
Most notably grown by the Brown family in the Arreton Valley, but did you know that Isle of Wight asparagus is in fact world-renowned? It was even served up at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee as part of the lavish banquet at Westminster Hall. Not only famous but nutritious too! Asparagus is high in antioxidants and packs a powerful punch of healthy vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, E and K, folate and is full of fibre. It’s also a great source of copper, an essential trace mineral that aids in collagen formation, energy production and iron absorption.
Where to buy it locally right now:
Local farm shops, greengrocers and suppliers are your best bet to get locally grown produce that has traveled minimal food miles and might have even been picked only that morning. Try Farmer Jacks, Briddlesford Lodge Farm Shop, Brownrigg’s, Barrow Boys, Farmhouse Fayre or The Farm Shop & No 8 – some of which deliver. Check our ‘Where to Shop Now’ area guides in Central, North, North East, East, South and West for more info.
Where to order from to it to eat in:
Look out for it popping up on lots of menus this week too. We’ve already spotted it on Robert Thompson’s latest weekly menu not once, not twice, but three times! On his Weekend Treat menu, he’s offering you a choice between a Thai fishcake starter with local asparagus and an Asian dressing or a vegetarian option of twice-baked cheese soufflé served local asparagus and wild garlic pesto. On his Sunday Session menu, it comes buttered (the way old Caesar would have approved of) accompanying the local wood pigeon “Wellington” with chicken and mushroom mousse and a sauce soubise. Over in Gurnard, The Little Glosteralso has a dish celebrating these green spears of goodness on their ‘At Home’ menu this week. From their starters, try ‘Ben Brown’s local asparagus’ named after the farmer who grew it – listed, it should be noted, as the main part of their dish on the sheer quality of the produce – served with a crispy egg and curry hollandaise – yum! You may have seen our ‘Eating IN is the New Eating Out’feature where we tell you all about the many places you can order takeaways and deliveries from in the current lockdown situation. So why not check-in and see if your local takeaway has featured it on their menu this week?
Three ways to cook and serve it yourself:
‘Ze’ French way – Simply steamed and served with hollandaise sauce (the mother of all asparagus pairings). Simply wash, trim off any woody ends from larger spears and steam for about 4 mins – keep an eye we don’t want any tales of brown overdone asparagus! If you are not feeling mastering the art of ’Zis’ French classic then you can buy a decent jar of hollandaise from all good (ideally local) shops BUT if you have the patience it really is worth making it yourself as homemade just has it that little extra… ‘How you say? Je ne sais quoi’ ??See below for the recipe. A great addition to this would be a lovely egg (done any-which-way you prefer) or if you can’t be bothered with hollandaise altogether, why not just swap out the H-sauce for the egg instead? Like our thinking there? Sweet.
When the sun is shining – Why not pop them on the barbecue? Toss the spears in olive oil, season with S’n’P and place on a hot barbeque for about 10 minutes, just make sure to watch them so they don’t end up as charcoal! Serve up with some tasty summer chicken thighs and a few barbeque-roasted Isle of Wight Tomatoes.
It’s risotto be done! – Make your favourite risotto recipe as usual and when it’s done at the end melt some butter in a pan and saute the asparagus until glossy and slightly softened although still vibrant and green then serve it on top of your risotto as a garnish with some parmesan shavings. We happen to have a wild garlic risotto recipe coming out very soon that’d work perfectly – keep ya eyes peels for that!
Hollandaise Sauce Français
HOLLANDAISE SAUCE FRANÇAIS
- 3 egg yolks
- 225 g softened butter (ie. not straight from the fridge)
- 1 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- Whisk the yolks with the water and the lemon juice in a small saucepan for a few moments, until thick and pale (this gets them ready for the next steps).
- Put the pan on a moderate to low heat and keep whisking at a good speed, reaching all over the bottom and inside of the pan where the eggs tend to overcook.
- To moderate the heat, frequently move the pan off the burner for a few seconds and then back keep whisking the whole time! If the eggs are cooking too quickly put the pan in a bowl of cold water to cool the bottom, then you continue (dry the bottom of the pan quickly before returning to the heat).
- As they cook, the eggs will become frothy and increase in volume before thickening. When you can see the pan bottom through the streaks of the whisk and the mixture is thick and smooth – remove from the heat.
- Add the soft butter, a spoonful at a time, whisking constantly to incorporate each spoonful. As the sauce comes together and what’s known in the biz as an ‘emulsion’ forms, you may add the butter in slightly larger amounts, always whisking until fully incorporated. Continue whisking butter until the sauce has thickened to the consistency you want.
- Season lightly with salt, pepper and a pinch of cayenne – whisking them in well. Taste and adjust the seasoning if ya need also add in a few drops of lemon juice if needed. Serve lukewarm with your beautiful steamed asparagus (steam for approx 4mins for ideal soft /crunch balance).
So, from us here at Taste of the Wight, however you choose to eat yours, bon appétite – enjoy!
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