Neven Maguire: Go green in your kitchen
Enjoy seasonal asparagus with these simple and delicious dishes
This is the time of year for asparagus. It is a great vegetable – it's low in calories and sodium and is a good source of dietary fibre. We are more familiar with the wild green asparagus, which mostly comes from France. It has a more delicate flavour.
On the Continent, you see a lot more white asparagus and it can be found in good vegetable shops here, too, so it is the ideal time to try out all the varieties. It can be something as simple as steaming a few spears, melting some butter over them, adding a little salt and pepper and topping it all off with a poached egg. Delicious.
This simple risotto also works well with courgettes or leeks when they are in season. It is a great one-pot wonder. I sometimes add crab or prawns. It is not that a risotto is a dumping ground for everything, but you can add lots of different textures and flavours to it.
The grilled asparagus is a light summery dish. I love the flavour of roasted peppers and they go well with the balsamic reduction. You could use crumbs of feta cheese or goat's cheese if you like. Maldon is a nice soft sea salt, but there's a Dingle sea salt also that is well worth checking out.
This asparagus soup does not use any flour, and the spinach gives it great colour. Spinach has a subtle, understated flavour that lets the asparagus be the star of the show. And it really is worth taking the 25 minutes to make your own vegetable stock.
Grilled Asparagus with Red Peppers, Parmesan and Balsamic Reduction
This is best eaten during asparagus season, which runs for approximately eight weeks in May and June. This is when asparagus has a full, sweet flavour and fine, tender texture. Baby leeks make a good winter alternative. Serves six.
YOU WILL NEED
2 bunches asparagus
4 tbsps rapeseed oil
6 fresh basil leaves, torn
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
3 large red peppers
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
300ml/½ pint balsamic vinegar
50g/2oz toasted pine nuts
75g/3oz Parmesan shavings
25g/1oz wild rocket
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
To prepare the asparagus spears, trim about 5cm/2in of the woody ends from each spear. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the asparagus tips for two minutes, then drain and quickly refresh in a bowl of iced water. Drain again and dry thoroughly, then place in a non-metallic dish.
Add two tablespoons of the oil – with the basil, thyme and parsley – to the asparagus spears, turning to coat them evenly. Cover with clingfilm and leave to marinate for one hour – overnight in the fridge is fine.
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas mark 6. Place the red peppers in a roasting tin with the garlic and drizzle over the remaining oil. Roast for 30-40 minutes until the skins are well charred and the peppers are completely tender.
Remove the roasted peppers from the oven and carefully place them in a polythene bag. Tie securely and leave to cool completely.
The steam will help remove the skin easily. Once the peppers are cool, remove from the bag and cut each pepper in half, then discard the cores and seeds and set aside until needed.
Peel the garlic cloves and then mash the flesh to a paste. Stir into the marinating asparagus mixture.
To make the balsamic reduction, pour the balsamic vinegar into a heavy-based pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until you have achieved a syrup-like consistency, stirring occasionally. Leave to cool and then transfer to a plastic squeezy bottle. This will keep happily in the fridge for up to three months.
When ready to serve, heat a griddle pan until very hot. Add the roasted peppers to the asparagus mixture, tossing to coat in the marinade, then carefully arrange asparagus and peppers on a griddle pan and cook for three minutes, turning once until lightly charred and heated through. You may have to do this in batches depending on the size of your griddle pan.
To serve, arrange one half of a pepper and four asparagus spears on each warmed plate.
Scatter over the toasted pine nuts and drizzle around some of the balsamic syrup. Garnish with the Parmesan shavings and wild rocket.
YOU WILL NEED
A little rapeseed oil
350g asparagus spears, stalks chopped, woody ends discarded, tips reserved
1 small onion, peeled and finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
700ml vegetable stock (fresh, if possible)
2 large handfuls baby spinach
Rapeseed oil, for drizzling (optional)
Crusty bread, to serve (optional)
Heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan until foaming. Fry the asparagus tips for a few minutes to soften. Remove and set aside.
Add the asparagus stalks, onion and garlic, and cook for five to 10 minutes until softened but still bright. Pour over the stock, add the spinach, bring to the boil, then blitz with a hand blender.
Season and add hot water if needed. Ladle into bowls and scatter the asparagus tips over the top. Drizzle with oil and serve with crusty bread, if you like.
Risotto of Lemon and Asparagus
YOU WILL NEED
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp chopped thyme
Juice and rind of 1 lemon
12oz arborio rice
¼ pint white wine
1½ pints vegetable stock
8 asparagus spears, cut at an angle
1 tbsp chopped parsley
Chervil, to garnish
Heat the oil and butter in a heavy-based saucepan. Add the onion, garlic, thyme and lemon rind, and stir for five minutes. Add the rice to the pan and fry over a low heat for one minute.
Add the white wine. Bring to the boil and boil until evaporated.
Gradually add the stock to the rice, a ladleful at a time, stirring well between each addition. Make sure that each addition of stock is absorbed before you add more.
Continue adding stock for approximately 20 minutes. Next, add asparagus, then continue to add stock for another five minutes. Cook until the rice is al dente and creamy. Stir in lemon juice and the chopped parsley. Season to taste.
To serve, divide among four bowls and garnish with chervil.