Words and recipe by Ren Behan
British asparagus season is back. Its time is short, officially running from April 23rd – June 21st, so now is the best time to enjoy those beautiful fresh stalks.
Asparagus is not only an extremely versatile spring vegetable, it’s also full of valuable nutrients. Asparagus contains vitamin A, folic acid and fibre, all of which are thought to help prevent some forms of cancer. Eating fresh asparagus will also provide you with high levels of potassium, iron, and rutin, which when combined with vitamin C can give your immune system a natural boost.
Asparagus is incredibly simple to cook. In fact, you can even eat it raw. But whatever you do, don’t overcook it. A minute or two dipped in boiling water will be enough to soften it, or you can steam it, roast it, or fry it in a griddle pan.
If you are using asparagus as an ingredient within a dish, such as an asparagus risotto or spring vegetable soup, you can simply add it straight in, towards the end of the cooking time. I absolutely love asparagus steamed and lightly buttered, but another of my favourite ways of eating it is to griddle or roast the delicate spears with a little olive oil, garlic and grated lemon zest, just for ten or so minutes.
My first taste of British asparagus out and about this year was at a charity supper at Fifteen in London, hosted by Jamie, to celebrate the success of a very unusual experiment involving some white truffles and cheese maker Tom Calver’s Westcombe Cheddar. On the night, Executive Chef Jon Rotheram and his brilliant team of apprentice chefs created a seasonal menu, filled to the brim with British produce – such as Wye Valley asparagus, nettles, wild garlic and veal – all paired with Tom’s Westcombe Truffle Cheddar. The Cheddar itself stood up incredibly well to the truffles. The stand-out course of the night for me was the pairing of the mature cheddar with British asparagus and a very light mushroom mayonnaise.
The following day, inspired by Jon’s beautiful British seasonal menu, I set to work on this British asparagus and Westcombe Cheddar tart, which I served for lunch alongside a baby leaf spinach and beetroot salad. Spring perfection!
British asparagus and Westcombe Cheddar tart recipe
Westcombe Cheddar is unpasteurised, mature cheddar, holding both European PDO status and the “Artisan Somerset Cheddar” designation from Slow Food. It has a firm texture, is slightly nutty and can be easily crumbled. I found a block at Jamie’s Deli in St Albans, but any strong, crumbly Cheddar can work.
I used a rectangular tart tin, measuring 36cm x 12cm.
300g fresh asparagus
2 cloves garlic, peeled and bashed
2 tbsp grated lemon zest
300g shortcrust pastry
Flour, for dusting
4 free-range eggs
100ml double cream
200g Westcombe mature Cheddar cheese
Sea salt and fresh pepper
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4. Wash the asparagus spears then snap away and discard any woody ends. Place in a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil, add the garlic cloves and lemon zest, and use your hands to coat the spears.
Lightly grease a rectangular tart tin with a little oil. Sprinkle some flour over a clean board, roll out the pastry and line the rectangular tart tin with it. Trim the edges with a knife then line with baking or parchment paper and fill with baking beans or dried lentils.
Bake the prepared asparagus and the tart shell in the oven alongside each other for 10 minutes.
Crack the eggs into a bowl, whisk in the cream and the grated Cheddar, then season with a little sea salt and pepper.
Take the asparagus out of the oven and keep it to one side. Then take the tart shell out of the oven and carefully tip out the baking beans or lentils and lift out the paper. Put the tart shell back into the oven for another 10 minutes.
Take the tart shell out of the oven again and place the roasted asparagus into the tart. Pour the egg and Cheddar cheese mixture evenly over the top of the asparagus.
Bake the filled tart for a further 15 minutes, until it is bubbling and golden. Leave to cool slightly and serve in slices.
Asparagus & cheese tart
Put the flour in a bowl, add the butter to the flour and rub in with your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the grated cheddar into the pastry and mix. Add 3 tbsp cold water and mix until the pastry forms a ball. Wrap in cling film and chill for 5 mins. Butter a 20 x 6cm deep loose-bottom tart tin, or a 35 x 12cm rectangular tart tin.
Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Lightly dust the work surface with flour, roll out the pastry and line the tin. Chill in the freezer for 20 mins, then line the pastry case with baking paper, fill with beans and cook for 15 mins. Remove the beans and paper, then return the pastry case to the oven for 10 mins.
Crack the eggs into a jug, whisk, then add the milk and whisk again. Sprinkle half the grated cheese over the pastry case, then add the asparagus, egg mix and remaining cheese (if using a rectangular tin, you may not need all the mixture, so add it gradually). Bake in the lower half of the oven for 30-35 mins or until the egg mix is set.
Four easy recipes to make the most of British asparagus season
Asparagus season is usually a short and sweet one, lasting from May until the end of June, if we’re lucky. This year though, we may be able to enjoy these delicate spears a little while longer, thanks to the cold spell that’s been keeping us in coats the past few months. At least, this is what my supplier, Mark Thorogood, who has grown asparagus in Essex for over 25 years, tells me.
All the same, we aim to make the most of the season while it lasts at the restaurant. Currently we have white asparagus with bottarga on the menu, as well as lightly cooked green asparagus topped with a ball of mozzarella and toasted breadcrumbs.
At home, too, I like it as simple as it comes lightly cooked with a bit of hollandaise or vinaigrette, or topped with a fried egg and a shaving of parmesan. The recipes I share below follow suit: simple flavours that don’t overpower the vegetable.
I love the dish of white asparagus with pink grapefruit – it’s well worth seeking out British white asparagus for, which is grown without exposure to light. The idea came from one of my ex-chefs, Neil Ferguson – one of the best chefs I know. I believe he took inspiration from a recipe he saw in one of Alain Passard’s vegetarian cookbooks. The sharpness of the grapefruit and sweetness of the basil is a perfect combination – great for a refreshing starter.
The tart is a combination of classic flavour pairings: salmon and asparagus, dill and cheddar cheese. I always use 50:50 lard to butter in my pastry, as it produces a buttery, short pastry. It’s what my mum did, and I suspect she got that from Delia.
As for the rest of the dishes here,they’re a testament to the belief that when it comes to showing off the produce in its prime, simplicity is best.
Tagliatelle with asparagus and parma ham
Blanched asparagus spears are cooked simply in olive oil, butter and garlic, then tossed with double cream, freshly-cooked pasta and a scattering of salty parma ham. Simplicity at its finest. Find the recipe here.
Asparagus and salmon tart
A combination of classic flavour pairings that really work: salmon and asparagus, dill and cheddar cheese. Here's how to make it.
White asparagus and grapefruit
Sharp grapefruit and sweet basil are a match made in heaven for blanched white asparagus – try this dish as a refreshing starter on hot days. You'll find the recipe here.
Asparagus with poached egg and a hazelnut crumb
This dish is as simple as it comes, but is all the better for it. Asparagus is blanched then served with a buttery hazelnut crumb and a poached egg. An effortless starter to make in under 20 minutes, click here to find it.
First, make the pastry by rubbing the butter and lard lightly into the flour, then add the cheese and salt, plus enough cold water to make a smooth dough – about a tablespoon.
Then place the dough in a plastic food bag to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes. After that, roll it out and line the tin with it. Be careful to press the dough firmly into the tin. Prick the base all over with a fork, then pre-bake in the oven for 20 minutes. After that, paint the inside of it with a little of the beaten egg (from the filling ingredients) and let it cook in the oven for a further 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the asparagus. Take each stalk in both hands and bend and snap off the woody end, then arrange the spears in a steamer and steam over simmering water for 4-5 minutes (just to half-cook them). Then chop the spears into 1½ inch (4 cm) lengths and arrange them over the base of the pre-baked pastry case. Next, beat the eggs together with the cream and grated Cheddar cheese and season with salt and pepper, then pour this mixture over the asparagus. Finally, sprinkle the Parmesan over the top.
Place the tart on the baking sheet in the oven and cook for 30-40 minutes – until the centre feels firm and the filling is golden brown and puffy.
Savoury tart recipes
Bake up an extra special savoury tart with crisp golden pastry and a tasty seasonal filling - perfect for picnics or relaxed summer entertaing.
Courgette & caramelised red onion tart
A vibrant veggie tart using fresh courgette and sweet, caramelised red onion. It's easy to prep and is great for feeding a family on a budget
Caramelised mushroom tartlets
Try these super-clever caramelised mushroom tartlets on those occasions when you're entertaining and need an exciting canapé, but could do without the faff
Free-form asparagus & potato tart
Top cheesy rough-puff pastry with soured cream, grated gruyère and seasonal vegetables for a rustic vegetarian lunch or light dinner
Double cheese & spring vegetable tart
This savoury make-ahead tart has a delicious crumbly base – no one will realise it's shop-bought pastry! Fill with goat's cheese and beautiful spring veg including asparagus and fresh peas
Want some more breakfast ideas? Before we get to the recipe, here are some more quiche and breakfast recipes for you:
This asparagus and goat cheese quiche has a hashbrown crust.
And here is a Cheeseburger Quiche with a tater tot crust!
You might want to try these Eggs in Poblano Pepper Boats (which can be made in just 10 minutes).
Want something sweet to serve along side the quiche? This Berry Stuffed French Toast comes together with just 10 minutes of active preparation time.
Olivia Grant's bacon, leek, Westcombe cheddar and thyme tart
For the filling
350g smoked streaky bacon
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt & pepper
1kg leeks &ndash 550-600g &ndash cut 1.5cm
250g Westcombe Cheddar
10g weight picked thyme leaves
320g double cream
220g full fat milk
6 eggs beaten
Salt & pepper
First make the pastry. Cut the cold butter until small pieces. Place flour in the robot coup with the salt and turn on for a couple of seconds to combine and sift the flour. Add the chopped butter and pulse for around 30 seconds until fine breadcrumbs. Add the cold water through the funnel again using pulse button for around 10-20 seconds. The mixture will still be crumbly but tip out into very large bowl and bring together working fast and not overhandling the pastry. Add a tiny bit more water (1 tsp at a time), cutting through with a knife, if required.
When the pastry has come together roll out using well-floured rolling pin and work surface and use to line the tin. Chill the pastry in the tin for at least 45 mins in fridge.
Meanwhile make the filling. Remove the skin and the seeds from the squash and cut into 1.5cm pieces. Toss with the olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at 200&rsquoc for around 30 mins. It should be soft but not really coloured. Set aside. Trim the leeks, cut lengthways, rinse and slice into 1.5cm slices. Cook gently with the butter and 1&frasl4 tsp salt in a heavy based pan for around 10 mins until soft, stirring occasionally. They shouldn&rsquot go very brown. Grate the cheese and pick the thyme leaves.
Before baking the pastry prick the base with a fork and line the tin with parchment and baking beans. Bake for 22 mins at 170&rsquoc then remove parchment and baking beans and back for a further 8-10 mins or until light golden brown.
Beat the egg white lightly with a fork and brush all over the surface of the tart case. Return to the oven for 1-2 mins to set.
Beat together the eggs, milk and cream until combined. Season to taste (around 3&frasl4 tsp salt, 1&frasl4 tsp freshly ground pepper.)
Put nearly one half of the cheese in the base of the tart tin then scatter over the almost half of the leeks, the thyme and the cooked squash. Layer again, reserving a little of all of the ingredients for the top. Carefully pour over the cream &ndash egg &ndash milk mixture and scatter the top with cheese, leeks squash, thyme &ndash these should all be visible above the cream mixture &ndash this will make it look nice.
Return to the oven for 45mins at 170&rsquoc. Check if it is set, if not cover (if necessary) and bake for a further 10-15 mins. Leave to cool for at least 30mins before cutting.
The perfect asparagus tart
Felicity Cloake's perfect asparagus tart
For the pastry (or use 250g ready-made shortcrust pastry)
120g cold butter, plus extra to grease
225g plain flour, plus extra to dust
1 medium egg yolk
For the filling
300g asparagus, trimmed
284ml double cream
2 eggs, beaten
50g gruyère, or nutty cheddar, finely grated
To make the pastry, grate the butter into the flour and rub in roughly with your fingertips to coat (or use a food processor). Stir in the egg yolk and a pinch of salt and, if necessary, a drop of cold water to bring it together into a dough. Form into a thick disc, wrap and chill for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F/gas mark 4) and grease a 22cm round tart tin. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface and use to line the tin, pressing it into the sides with a small ball of excess dough. Prick the base with a fork, line with baking paper and baking beans or pulses/rice and bake for 15 minutes until lightly golden. Remove the beans and paper and put back into the oven for five minutes.
Meanwhile, steam the asparagus for about four minutes, until al dente. Chop into short lengths, and put about half of the stalks into a food processor (keep all the tops). Puree. Pour the double cream into a jug and add the eggs. Beat together, then stir in the puree and the grated cheese. Season well.
Arrange the remaining asparagus pieces on the bottom of the tart, and then pour in the cream mixture. Bake for about 35-40 minutes until jiggly but set, and golden on top, and allow to cool slightly before serving.
What are your favourite recipes for making the most of the British asparagus season – or do you prefer to keep things simple and eat the stuff as naked as the day it was pulled? And what about the white asparagus that mainland Europe gets so excited about at this time of year: does it have any fans lurking on this side of the Channel?
Preheat the oven to 375°. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, pepper and cheese. Set aside.
In a saute pan, heat the oil and butter over high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 1 minute. Add the asparagus and cook for 5 minutes, until the vegetables turn bright green. Remove from heat, let cool slightly and then add asparagus to the egg mixture. You don't want to add the hot asparagus directly into the eggs right away because they'll begin to cook the eggs in the tin.
Pour the egg mixture evenly into the wells of the muffin pan and bake for 23 minutes. Let the frittatas cool slightly and serve. If you're making these ahead of time, you can also let them cool completely and store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
|plain flour, for dusting|
|200g||sandwich pickle (small chunks)|
|250g||mature Cheddar cheese, grated|
Asparagus and mushroom quiche
This delicious symphony of asparagus, Portabellini mushrooms, bacon and onion will leave your taste buds hungry for more. Perfect for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner.
Recipe by: GRITS:Girl Raised In The South
A delectable combination of ingredients that result in a tasty quiche. Using a shop bought pastry case makes it unbelievably easy.
Recipe by: Michele O'Sullivan
Zesty Cheddar and asparagus quiche
How do you get the rich taste of a classic quiche with a fraction of the fat? One technique: make the case with thinly sliced potatoes. It's a heart-smart substitute for traditional shortcrust!
Recipe by: Norma MacMillan
Gruyere and Asparagus Quiche
Using shop bought pastry makes this quiche quite easy to make. I love this in spring when British asparagus is in season.
Ham and asparagus quiche
I love this quiche recipe, it makes a beautiful presentation. I use prosciutto di Parma and Comté cheese for this recipe, but you can do it with any ham and any other hard cheese.
Asparagus bacon quiche
A hearty asparagus quiche with bacon and a puff pastry base. You can use green or white asparagus, or a combination of the two.
Asparagus and pancetta quiche
I prefer to make this asparagus quiche with a puff pastry base but you could use shortcrust pastry if you prefer.
Asparagus and goats cheese quiche
A crunchy buttery base and a creamy filling make the perfect balance for a tasty spring quiche. Serve as starter or as a main dish.
Asparagus quiche with prosciutto
This lovely asparagus and prosciutto quiche is full of simple yet powerful flavours making this a tasty option for an easy supper and great served alongside a fresh salad for a complete meal.
Asparagus, mushroom and ham quiche
Asparagus, ham and mushrooms are a great combination in a quiche! Serve with a crisp green salad. If the asparagus tips are thick - you can cook them for a few minutes before arranging them in the pastry case.