The sadly short rule of the king of vegetables
What is it about English asparagus that makes it so special? Is it the delicate, unmistakable flavour? The beautiful architectural shape of a bundle of spears on a plate? Or simply the fact that it arrives just when we are crying out for fresh greenery to rescue us from a winter of root vegetables and cabbage?
Whatever the reason, now is the time to make the very most of this lovely vegetable, which will, alas, soon be leaving our shops after just eight or so short weeks of joyful eating.
So who to turn to for some great ways with what is often called "the king of vegetables"? Well, Emily Scott is a chef to watch who has been making the most of the oh-so-local asparagus from Great Keiro Farm at St Enodoc in North Cornwall.
"This asparagus comes in slender little spears and, thanks to Cornwall's milder climate, arrives sooner than most," she explains.
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St Enodoc's asparagus tends to be about the thickness of a pencil, so if yours is thicker, adjust your recipes to include fewer spears. "But always use an odd number, say three, five or seven per person," says Emily. "It sounds weird, I know, but looks more pleasing to the eye."
At her own restaurant in Port Isaac, called The Harbour, Emily is blazing a trail for female chefs, of whom there are far too few, she believes. And I agree with her. She's been running The Harbour since 2008 and it is an exceptionally pretty dining room, tucked under cream-painted beams, with the sea lapping just yards from the restaurant's front door. Look carefully at TV's Doc Martin and you will often have seen The Harbour in the background, looking suitably quaint and adorable.
Emily's a mother of three who firmly believes in encouraging children to eat adventurously. So her ideas for asparagus are all simple, effective and completely do-able for home cooking and family eating.
"These recipes aren't over-fancy, as asparagus is best enjoyed simply – and often!" she says. And to see her littlest child, Evie, who is just six, tuck into a pot of steamed asparagus, dipping it avidly into a soft boiled egg, is to know that here is a mini foodie in the making.
"Just steam the asparagus lying flat for four minutes so they are still al dente enough to dip," says Emily. "The kids love it and the light richness of egg yolk brings out the best in asparagus. Or you could try a more grown-up version with poached duck egg as a fun dinner party starter or light snack."
Emily's restaurant specialises in fish, which makes perfect sense as it is a stone's throw from Port Isaac's harbour. "I've been cooking asparagus with lemon sole from the day boats, Cornish new potatoes and a caper aioli for that creamy luxuriousness that asparagus craves," she says. It's certainly a vegetable that matches very well with dairy products, which is why many people love it simply steamed or roasted with melted butter. For something a little different, Emily has devised a bruschetta recipe with a slice of Ticklemore goat's cheese from South Devon lying across the asparagus spears.
If you fancy giving it a go yourself, here are some of her recipes.
Lemon Sole with Herbed New Potatoes, Caper Aioli and Roasted Asparagus
Asparagus and Goat's Cheese Bruschetta