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Monday, 18 April 2011

Signs Of Spring - Fresh and tasty

April means the return of two of my favourite foods, Asparagus and Rhubarb.

The delicate green spears of Asparagus are a real treat and made more so by their short season. There is something very wrong about buying Asparagus in November, not just the huge number of food miles and CO2 expended to fly them in from Peru or Chile, but the flavour is coarser, less fragrant and subtle.

It is the short season, about six weeks that adds to the luxury of the experience, fresh Asparagus is more than an ingredient, it is an experience and a sure sign that summer is around the corner. Use them in season and use them often.

Asparagus Tips with a Hollandaise is a dish in its own right or an amazing accompaniment to a well-cooked rare rib of Beef or roast Cod. Asparagus Soup is a classic, light fresh and packed with flavour.

On a visit to my parents’ house near Canterbury I passed a sign in a field, “Our Asparagus available now”.

A short detour out onto the marshes at Seasalter led us past the Michelin Starred ‘Jolly Sportsman’ and on to Mallards Farm. The Asparagus had just been cut and was still being bagged when we arrived. Half a Kilo was rapidly aged to the shopping bag and my daydreams turned to dishes containing the delicate vegetable.

On arrival chez parents I spotted a well -developed Rhubarb patch. Three or four crowns were pushing their pink stems skywards and crying out for cutting. As I have not had Rhubarb this year a request for some was made almost before exchanging ritual greetings with the ancestors. Fortunately they agreed.

With both the Asparagus and Rhubarb as fresh as could be a method of getting it home in pristine condition became the priority, Canterbury to Cwmbran is 4 hours in anyone’s money and very dependent on the state of the M25. Added to this was a diversion to Hove for a visit to my daughter and grandchildren so the fresh produce could be as dehydrated as Peruvian produce unless I was careful.

A cunning system of damp kitchen roll, recycled plastic bags and a cool bag ensured the right ambient conditions for the journey and I am pleased to report that both ingredients arrived home safely.

What about the food miles I hear you cry. Well, to my mind there were none. I was visiting Canterbury in any event and thus the miles were being undertaken anyway, the produce was not sent to me but returned on a journey which was intended and not unique to the food.

Back home I converted the produce to Asparagus Soup and Rhubarb and Ginger Crumble, two dishes which bring out the real flavours of the main ingredients.

Asparagus Soup

500 grams of fresh Asparagus.

1 Shallot

500 mils Chicken Stock

Freshly ground Black Pepper

25 grams Butter

Chives to garnish.

Snap the Asparagus (it will break naturally where the soft stalk meets the woodier base) and wash well.

Dice the Shallot and sweat gently in butter. Add the woodier stems cut to ½ inch pieces and continue to sweat for 10 minutes or so. Add the Chicken Stock and bring to the simmer for around another 10 minutes.

Strain and reserve the liquid discarding the stalks.

In a separate pan seat the Asparagus tips, again cut to ½ inch dice. Add a good pinch of the Pepper. After 10 minutes add the reserved Stock and bring back to the boil, simmering for 5 minutes. Liquidise and add a little water if you like your soup on the thin side. Bring back to a near simmer and serve garnished with a few snipped chives.

200 mils of Cream may be added to give a light but creamy soup.

Rhubarb and Ginger Crumble

For the Rhubarb

700 grams Rhubarb

50 grams Stem Ginger

75 grams Sugar

For the topping

110 grams Plain Flour

110 grams Butter

50 grams Granulated Sugar

Wash the Rhubarb and cut into 1 inch dice.

Place in a pan with the Sugar and bring gently to the boil. DO NOT add any water as Rhubarb is full of liquid and a flood will ensue!! Simmer for around 10 minutes or until about half cooked. Cool slightly then add the Stem Ginger in small dice or thin strips.

Meanwhile rub the Butter into the Flour till it looks like large Breadcrumbs and then mix in the sugar.

Transfer the Rhubarb and Ginger to an ovenproof dish and scatter the topping over.

Bake in an oven for 20 minutes or until the topping is crispy and golden brown.

Serve with Crème Anglaise, Whipped Cream and Brown Sugar or Ice Cream.

Two good dishes that show off the real flavours of Spring and indicate that A Summer of really fresh fruit and vegetables is just around the corner.

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