Recipes

Asparagus and rhubarb - my favourite ingredients for May

Two iconic spring ingredients that thrust themselves out of the soil and announce that Spring is definitely on its way! Both are assertive - in flavour and character - and both demand to be feasted on this month. They are amazingly versatile, mixing and matching with so many other ingredients but don’t be so inventive that you overlook simplicity. Steamed asparagus and the best butter that money can buy, or the easiest of fools with sweetened cooked rhubarb just folded into whipped cream - or simply over ice cream! Here are some suggestions for spending just a little more time in the kitchen this month.

Griddled bean and asparagus salad

Serves 4

Griddled or fried, the asparagus is the star of this salsa-like salad.

  • 2 bunches asparagus
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 red chilli
  • Small bunch flat leaf parsley
  • 400g can flageolet beans
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  1. Snap the ends off the asparagus and place the spears on a plate. Drizzle with the olive oil. Prepare the remaining vegetables. Finely chop the red onion, chilli and parsley. Drain and rinse the beans in a sieve and shake dry.
  2. Heat a ridged griddle pan or large frying pan until hot. Add the asparagus and cook over a medium heat, turning occasionally, until the spears are just tender. This will take about 8 minutes for medium thickness spears. Transfer to a plate and leave to cool.
  3. Mix together the onion, chilli, parsley and beans in a bowl. Chop the thick stalks from the asparagus, leaving the spears about 10cm long. Roughly chop the ends and add them to the bowl. Mix well, season with salt and pepper and moisten the salad with some extra virgin olive oil.
  4. Serve the asparagus spears with the bean and asparagus salad to one side.

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Asparagus pasta with smoked venison

Serves 4

I love this with venison but you could try any smoked meat, salami or even smoked salmon.

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 red chilli
  • 190g jar Piquillo peppers or similar
  • 100g smoked venison
  • bunch flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Knob of butter
  • 250g pasta
  • 142ml pot double cream
  1. Snap the ends off the asparagus and discard them. Trim the spears to 2.5-3cm, then finely chop the stems and set to one side. Crush the garlic, finely chop the chilli and chop the peppers, reserving any juices. Cut the venison into strips and finely chop the parsley.
  2. Heat the oil and butter together, add the chopped asparagus with the chopped chilli and garlic, cover and cook slowly for 5-8 minutes until tender.
  3. Bring a large pan of water to the boil then add the pasta and cook as directed on the packet. Place the asparagus spears in a colander and steam over the pasta for 5 minutes at the end of the cooking time.
  4. Add the pepper juice and the cream to the cooked chopped asparagus, then blend to a smooth sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Drain the pasta and return it to the pan, add the sauce and stir until the pasta is well coated. Gently stir in the peppers, venison and asparagus spears with the parsley. Add a little more seasoning before reheating gently for 2-3 minutes and serving.

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Chicken, ham and asparagus pie

Serves 4-6

I love a good pie and they are trendy again. Make things easy for yourself by using prepared pastry if you wish - you could even use some soup instead of making a sauce! Short cuts or not, with asparagus, ham and chicken in the filling your pie will be delicious.

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • Oil
  • 50g flour
  • 50g butter
  • 500ml milk
  • 300g cooked chicken
  • 300g ham
  • 100g cold butter 
  • 200g plain flour
  • Beaten egg or milk to glaze
  1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 6, 200℃. Place a 1.5 litre pie dish on a baking tray.
  2. Snap off and discard the ends of the asparagus, place the spears in a small roasting tin, season lightly and drizzle with oil. Roast in the pre-heated oven for 10-15 minutes, depending on thickness, shaking once or twice. Leave to cool.
  3. Heat the 50g of flour and butter with the milk in a pan over a medium heat, stirring all the time, until blended and thickened into a smooth sauce. Leave to cool.
  4. Rub the cold butter into the flour with a pinch of salt until it resembles fine crumbs. Bind the pastry together with just enough cold water to give a firm dough. Lightly chill until required.
  5. Chop the chicken, ham and asparagus into mouthful sized pieces. Combine in the cooled sauce. Season to taste and pile into the pie dish.
  6. Lightly knead the pastry into a smooth ball, then roll out to cover the pie. Make a slit in the centre with a sharp knife, then brush the pastry with milk or beaten egg. Bake in the hot oven for 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. Serve immediately, or let it go cold. Do not reheat the pie as it is made with cooked meats.

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Salmon and asparagus pie

Serves 4

This recipe has been a great favourite whenever I have cooked it for an audience at a dem or for the family at home. It is a bit retro - it is almost a plait - but it is light as the filling is made with créme fraîche and not a traditional sauce.

  • 375g pack ready-rolled puff pastry
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 3 tomatoes
  • Large bunch chives
  • 1 egg
  • 2 medium salmon fillets, about 150g each
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 200ml tub créme fraîche
  1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 7, 225°C, 425°F. Remove the pastry from the fridge and leave to stand at room temperature for 20 minutes. Snap the ends off the asparagus and cut the spears into 2-3cm lengths, then toss them in the olive oil. Cut the tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds and core with a teaspoon. Finely dice the flesh. Finely chop most of the chives and set the rest to one side. Beat the egg in a small bowl.
  2. Bake the salmon on an oiled baking sheet for 10 minutes. Add the prepared asparagus and cook for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the oven, cool slightly then pull the salmon off the skin into large thick flakes. Mix the salmon and asparagus with the tomatoes, chopped chives and seasonings, then carefully fold in the créme fraîche.
  3. Unroll the pastry, leaving it on the plastic sheet. Spoon the filling down the middle, then brush the edges of the pastry with beaten egg. Use the plastic to help you fold the pastry over the filling to make a long roll, and carefully seal the edges by pinching them together.
  4. Carefully transfer the pie to an oiled baking sheet and brush all over with beaten egg. Slash the pastry at regular intervals with a sharp knife, then bake for 20-25 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. Snip the remaining chives into long lengths and scatter them over the pie before serving, hot or cold, in slices.

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Rhubarb and orange compôte

Serves 4-6

This is as good with sausages or a pork chop as it is with your breakfast cereal or ice cream! The cinnamon is optional, but I like it.

  • 500g rhubarb
  • 2 oranges
  • 1 cinnamon stick (optional)
  • 75g granulated sugar
  1. Trim the rhubarb and chop into 2cm pieces. Finely grate the zest of the oranges onto the rhubarb in a pan. Cut away the pith from the oranges with a serrated knife, then cut the fruits in half lengthways and remove the pithy core. Roughly chop the remaining flesh, removing any pips.
  2. Cook the rhubarb, zest and oranges with the cinnamon stick, sugar and 2 tbsp water, in a covered saucepan for 8-10 minutes, or until the rhubarb is just soft. Serve with grilled pork chops or roast pork, or fresh mackerel. Any remaining compote is great with porridge or muesli for breakfast.

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Rhubarb Queen of Puddings Trifle

Serves 6-8

This recipe came to be because I love trifle, I love Queen of Puddings, and I love rhubarb and custard and I wanted them all! It works remarkably well. You could use a 500ml pot of prepared custard, but you would need egg whites for the meringue so I think it's really best to make the custard yourself. When you've done it once you'll realise just how easy it is and then you can always make your own proper custard for trifles - it sets so well.

  • 500g early forced rhubarb
  • 4 large eggs
  • 400g ginger cake or golden syrup Cake
  • 75g granulated sugar
  • 500ml milk
  • 2 tbsp + 75g caster sugar
  • 1 level tbsp cornflour 
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Wash and trim the rhubarb, then cut it into 2cm chunks. Separate 3 of the eggs, adding the yolks to the remaining whole egg in a medium sized bowl. Keep the egg whites in a large bowl until required. Slice, then roughly crumble the cake into the bottom of a 1 - 1 1/2 litre ovenproof dish. 
  2. Cook the rhubarb in a covered saucepan with 2 tbsp water over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, until soft. Add the granulated sugar, then pour the rhubarb over the cake in the dish. Preheat the oven to gas mark 6, 200C, 400F.
  3. Heat the milk in a pan until almost boiling. Meanwhile, lightly whisk the egg and yolks with the 2 tbsp caster sugar, cornflour and vanilla extract. Pour the hot milk onto the mixture, stirring all the time, then pour the custard back into the pan. Cook slowly over a moderate heat, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon to prevent the mixture from catching and burning as it thickens. Cook until the custard thickly coats the back of the wooden spoon, then pour it gently and evenly into the dish over the rhubarb.
  4. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then gradually whisk in the remaining sugar. Stop whisking as soon as the last of the sugar is incorporated. Pile the meringue carefully over the custard, then use a fork to pull it into peaks and ensure that every last bit of custard is covered. Bake for 5 minutes, until the meringue is lightly golden. Serve warm or cold.

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Chinese-style sausages with rhubarb

Serves 3-4

Rhubarb is actually a Chinese vegetable and this recipe is a tweaked favourite from my book A Feast of West Sussex. Here I am using lamb sausages to make a quick supper dish, but you can use the same ingredients (minus the sausages) to stuff a shoulder of lamb to roast, or with diced lamb to make a really surprising casserole.

  • 4 large sticks rhubarb
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 100g preserved or crystallised ginger
  • 2 tsps Chinese 5 Spice 
  • 12 thick sausages: lamb ones are especially good
  • 3-4 tbsp sweet soy sauce
  • freshly chopped salad onions and coriander to garnish
  1. Finely slice the rhubarb, dice the onion, crush the garlic and finely chop the ginger.
  2. Brown the sausages in a frying pan which has a lid, using a little oil if necessary. Add the onion and cook until soft, then the rhubarb, garlic, ginger and 5-spice. Cook for a few minutes until the rhubarb starts to soften, adding a little water to prevent the mixture from sticking, then add the soy sauce and 1-2 tbsp syrup if using preserved ginger. Make sure the ‘sauce’ is moist enough and add a little water if necessary, then cover the pan and cook over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the sausages.
  3. Season to taste and add the salad onions and coriander as garnish.

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