Saturday, 8 May 2010

An abundance of asparagus (English, of course)

I've been having a great time indulging in English asparagus over the last week and I shall continue to do so, at the risk of overdoing it, for the duration of the short,  eight-week season.  As I write, asparagus soup is bubbling on the hob, a simple blend of asparagus ends (the snapped-off bits), a few new potatoes, a handful of chopped basil and a dollop of crème fraiche.
This week, I enjoyed visiting an asparagus farm in South Somerset – New Cross Fruit Farm near South Petherton.  The asparagus is sold in bunches according to size – fine, medium or large for £2.50 each and, if you’re lucky, you might come across bags of odd bits which are great for making soup. We could see the pickers in the fields, with the boards that they use to measure the asparagus to see if it is the right length to pick, and it was good to know that my purchases had been harvested that very morning.
In our house, the 2010 asparagus season has already seen griddled asparagus with poached eggs, roasted asparagus with shavings of parmesan and steamed asparagus dipped in a chive aioli but my favourite so far is baked frittata with asparagus, feta and mint.  We paired the frittata with a crisp, Verdejo from Rueda in Spain.  Indeed, fresh, high-acid, whites are best with most asparagus dishes so think Loire Chenin Blanc, crisp Sauvignon Blanc (Old or New World) and cool climate, unoaked Chardonnay.  Here is the recipe for the frittata:

Baked Frittata with Asparagus, Feta and Mint

6 free-range eggs
A large bunch of chunky asparagus, chopped into 2-inch pieces
500g medium sized new potatoes, chopped in half
125g feta cheese, roughly chopped
A good handful of chopped mint
50g hard cheese – I used gruyère  
You will also need a 6-inch loose-bottomed cake tin and some foil

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees (Gas Mark 3).  Grease the cake tin and wrap a double layer of strong foil around the cake tin.  Boil the potatoes until soft and steam the asparagus until tender. Crack the eggs into a bowl, beat with a fork and add the feta cheese and mint.   When cooked, add the new potatoes and asparagus. Season well with salt and pepper and mix again.  Pour the whole lot into the cake tin and top with the grated hard cheese.  

Place the tin on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until the top is springy to the touch and a skewer, dipped into the middle of the frittata, comes out clean.  Leave the frittata to stand for five minutes and then gently push it out of the tin.  Serve with a simple green salad and some crusty bread.

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