5 asparagus recipes to welcome the start of the season

The Great British asparagus season starts on 23rd April. Here are some of our favourite asparagus recipes to help you celebrate.

Frying-pan pasta with asparagus and rocket

Chris Alack

SERVES 2

150g orzo pasta
1 tbsp good olive oil
4 spring onions trimmed and sliced
150g asparagus tips (trimmed weight)
cut into 4cm lengths
sea salt and black pepper
75ml white wine
30g freshly grated parmesan plus extra
to serve
40g rocket or watercress torn or
roughly chopped

1. Select a medium-large frying pan with a well-fitting lid.
2. Cook the orzo pasta in a pan of boiling salted water for 7-9 minutes until just tender or according to the packet instructions. Drain using a sieve, reserving a small cupful of the cooking water.
3. At the same time heat the olive oil in the frying pan over a medium heat, add the spring onions and fry for about 1 minute until softened, stirring frequently. Add the asparagus, season and fry for 1 minute until glossy. Add the wine, cover with a lid and cook over a low heat for 3-5 minutes until the asparagus is just tender.
4. Add the drained pasta to the frying pan and scatter over the grated parmesan. Add a drop or two of the reserved cooking water and stir gently over a low heat, gradually adding just enough cooking water until everything is coated in a creamy sauce (rather like a risotto). Stir in the rocket or watercress and turn a few times until the leaves are semi-wilted. Serve with extra parmesan scattered over.

Asparagus and cucumber salad with crab mayonnaise

Chris Alack

SERVES 2

FOR THE CRAB MAYONNAISE
25g mayonnaise
25g soured cream
1 tsp lemon juice
sea salt
cayenne pepper
100g white and brown crabmeat

FOR THE SALAD
50g thick asparagus (trimmed weight)
⅓ cucumber
1 tbsp good olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp finely grated lemon zest
2 tsp small capers
a couple of pinches of coarsely chopped
flat-leaf parsley

1. For the crab mayo, combine the mayonnaise and soured cream in a medium bowl, stir in a teaspoon of lemon juice, a pinch of salt and a little cayenne pepper, then mix in the crab meat.
2. Shave the raw asparagus into ribbons using a potato peeler or grater.
3. Halve the cucumber lengthways (feel free to peel it wholly or partly depending on your chosen presentation). Scoop out the seeds using a teaspoon, then slice the flesh into thin ribbons. Combine with the asparagus in a large bowl.
4. Toss the asparagus and cucumber with the olive oil, lemon juice, zest and a little salt. Divide between two plates, spoon the crab mayo alongside and scatter over the capers and a little parsley.

Asparagus, beetroot and horseradish tart

Chris Alack

SERVES 6

FOR THE BASE
1 x 320g all-butter puff pastry sheet
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp milk

FOR THE TOP
2 tbsp good olive oil
1 red onion peeled halved and
thinly sliced
150g cooked peeled beetroot (unvinegared) thinly sliced
sea salt and black pepper
150g thin asparagus (trimmed weight) halved across if necessary
2 medium egg yolks
2 heaped tsp horseradish sauce
50g crème fraîche
1 tbsp milk

1. Have ready the unrolled sheet of shop-bought puff pastry. Combine the egg yolk with the milk in a small bowl and set aside. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6 with a baking sheet inside.
2. For the topping, heat a tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick frying pan over a medium heat and fry the onion for 5 minutes until softened and lightly coloured, stirring frequently. Stir in the beetroot and season.
3. Toss the asparagus in a large bowl with the remaining oil and a little seasoning. Whisk the egg yolks, horseradish and crème fraîche together in a small bowl, then stir
in a tablespoon of milk to achieve a thick drizzling cream.
4. Unroll the pastry leaving it on its base (it should measure about 23cm x 35cm). Brush a 2cm rim of pastry all the way round with the egg wash.
5. Spread the onion and beetroot to within about 1cm of the rim, then scatter over the asparagus and drizzle over the horseradish cream. Slip the tart on its paper on to the hot baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until the cream is golden and the vegetables are tender and lightly coloured. Serve about 20 minutes out of the oven.

Chicken in a pot with creamy asparagus sauce

Chris Alack

SERVES 4

1.6kg free-range chicken untrussed
vegetable oil for rubbing
sea salt and black pepper
150ml white wine
1 bay leaf
2 garlic cloves peeled
250g thick asparagus
(trimmed weight)
75g samphire picked over
knob of salted butter
50g crème fraîche

1. Have ready a large lidded casserole pot that will hold the chicken with a little space around. Lightly rub the chicken all over with oil, season well, then colour it on all sides in a large nonstick frying pan over a medium-high heat. Transfer to the casserole pot, add the wine, bay leaf and garlic cloves. Bring to the boil, put on the lid, then turn down the heat to low and cook at a gentle bubble for 50 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, cut off and reserve the asparagus tips, and coarsely chop the remaining stalks.
3. After the 50 minutes cooking time, scatter the asparagus stalks around the chicken, submerging them in the juices, then cover and cook for another 10 minutes. Add the asparagus tips to a pan of boiling water and cook for3 minutes, add the samphire and cook for another 30 seconds, then drain, return to the pan and toss with a knob of butter.
4. Lift the chicken out of the casserole, tipping it so that any juices inside the cavity run back into the pot. Discarding the bay leaf, purée the contents of the casserole with the crème fraîche in a blender and taste for seasoning. Return the sauce to the pot and gently reheat. Carve the chicken and serve with the sauce spooned over, with the buttered vegetables.

Spring green soup with mint

Chris Alack

SERVES 4

5 tbsp good olive oil plus extra to serve
5 shallots peeled and thinly sliced
1 celery heart trimmed and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves peeled and finely chopped
300g medium asparagus spears trimmed and thickly sliced
sea salt and black pepper
300g shelled peas (frozen or use fresh from the pod when available)
900ml chicken stock (or use well-flavoured vegetable stock)
20g mint leaves plus a few tiny leaves extra to serve if wished

1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, add the shallot, celery and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 4-5 minutes until softened. Add the sliced asparagus and some seasoning and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until glossy, then stir in the peas. Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
2. Whiz the soup in batches in a blender to your preferred texture (it can be chunky or smooth). Check the seasoning, gently reheat the soup as necessary and serve with a few drops of olive oil to and a few tiny mint leaves to finish.

The British Asparagus Festival runs from 23 April to 21 June in the Vale
of Evesham. Go to britishasparagusfestival.org for info, events, tickets and to get involved.

Recipes by Annie Bell. Food styling by Clare Lewis. Styling by Sue Radcliffe.