A summery salad from Southwold

May 24, 2015 § Leave a comment

Whilst on our annual pilgrimage to Southwold on the bracing Suffolk coast I tried out a new salad recipe inspired by the cover recipe on this month’s Delicious magazine. It combines two of the season’s best ingredients – asparagus and baby new potatoes and adds to them crunchy radishes and a fresh herby dressing. The Delicious magazine recipe requires you to whip up a herb hollandaise sauce to dress the salad but creating a vinegar reduction, separating eggs and creating a delicate emulsion is not my idea of fun for a quick holiday lunch, and frankly, the idea of all that butter is a little off-putting. I replaced the herb hollandaise with a quick and easy yoghurt and herb dressing that worked really well with the other ingredients.

At this time of year, Southwold’s greengrocer, the Crab Apple in the Market Place is heaving with local Seabreeze asparagus, so much so that one no longer feels the need to treat it reverentially. Wild fennel grows in abundance by the beach and a little of this thrown into the herb dressing adds a fresh aniseed flavour note that works well with the asparagus and potatoes.

The genius part of this salad is that the potatoes are not just plain boiled but after a quick parboil are smashed and roasted in olive oil in a hot oven becoming deliciously crispy.

In terms of aesthetics, the long thin white tipped Breakfast variety of radish look prettiest, especially if you leave on a little of the green radish top. If you can’t get hold of these then the regular scarlet globe-shaped type works just fine.

Here’s the recipe. I’d recommend it to anyone wanting to pep up a holiday lunch and it provides welcome relief from yet another carb-heavy pork pie and sandwich picnic.


Southwold asparagus and crispy potato salad

Serves 4

Adapted from a recipe in the Delicious magazine May 2015 edition.


450-500g baby new potatoes (e.g. Jersey Royals), scrubbed
4-5 tablespoons olive oil
400g asparagus, woody parts trimmed-off and ends peeled
200g radishes, washed, trimmed and halved lengthwise (the long thin white-tipped Breakfast variety look prettiest but the regular

For the dressing

250g full fat natural yoghurt
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
small clove of garlic, peeled, smashed and finely chopped
generous handful of fresh herbs – whatever you can get hold of – I used fennel foraged from the beach, basil and chives

Optional garnish

a spoonful of extra chopped herbs
a little balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses

Heat the oven to 200 degrees C fan. Line a shallow roasting tin with baking paper

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 7-8 minutes until you can just pierce them with a knife point but they are not quite tender. Drain thoroughly and tip the potatoes onto the prepared roasting tin. Press each potato with a fork to squash it partially. Drizzle over the olive oil, season and toss lightly to coat. Slip the roasting tin into the oven and roast the potatoes for about 30 minutes, turning them half way through the cooking time.

While the potatoes are in the oven, make the dressing. Put all the dressing ingredients into a medium bowl, stir to mix, cover and set aside in the fridge.

Steam or boil the prepared asparagus until just tender – about 5 minutes for the plump spears shown in the photograph. Slice each asparagus spear into two halves carefully on the diagonal.

When the potatoes are ready, tip them onto a platter and spread them out. Scatter over the asparagus and then the radishes. Dollop the herbed yoghurt dressing over the salad and, if liked, scatter over a few chopped herbs and drizzle with just a little balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses.

The green asparagus and the white

May 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yes, you guessed it – curiosity piqued by the current BBC adaption of “The Crimson Petal and the White” I’ve finally got round to reading Michel Faber’s racy historical novel . It made a perfect holiday read over Easter in France, punctuating the main activities of exploring the Forêt de Fontainebleau and thinking about the next meal.

I was reminded of the febrile atmosphere of the novel whilst strolling past a curiously mounded asparagus bed on the outskirts of the village where we were staying:

The French prefer their asparagus white with the tips displaying just a tinge of purple. This is achieved by banking the soil up around each asparagus crown to blanch the growing shoots. Pausing beside the weird dusty anthills concealing the exclusively male crowns beneath, you can practically hear the shoots growing as they thrust upwards towards the source of warmth and light. I felt positively faint after a few minutes gazing at these shoots in the lazy afternoon sunshine.

The Germans too prefer the thicky juicy spears of white asparagus (Spargel in German). Despite their buttoned-up reputation, they go a little bit crazy during asparagus season (“Spargelzeit”) when asparagus festivals and special restaurant menus abound. The thick juicy white spears are simply served either on their own or with boiled potatoes and ham and always with generous pools of yellow buttery hollandaise sauce.

Whilst in Dusseldorf during Spargelzeit I was intrigued to find an asparagus ice cream sundae on the menu. This turned out to be a spectacular trompe l’oeil affair of piped vanilla and palest pistachio ice cream (to imitate the spears) topped with chilled vanilla sauce to mimic the hollandaise. Only in Germany…

We Brits prefer the arguably better flavoured and certainly more decorous green asparagus. No stonking purple-tipped white shoots the width of a baby’s arm here thank you! There is the added plus point for the lazy cook that tender shoots of green asparagus don’t require peeling unlike their continental cousins.

So what does a field of English green asparagus look like? I’d fondly imagined rows upon rows of waving green fronds but in fact the banked-up rows of dry soil I spotted in Suffolk don’t look radically different from their French counterparts:

I took this photo in the sandy fields near the coast around Wrentham. These spears were destined for the packing sheds of Sea Breeze Asparagus http://www.seabreezeasparagus.co.uk/ who supply by mail order all over the country and have come up with the delightful idea of sending an edible bouquet of perfect top grade asparagus spears to your loved one. It’s got to be better than a tired bunch of petrol station flowers hasn’t it?

So, what to do if you find yourself with a bunch of either the green asparagus or the white and feel inclined to do a little more with it than the usual steaming and serving with melted butter?

Having trawled through my collection of recipe books and notes, here are a couple of recipes that appeal to me, the first suitable for green asparagus and the second for white.

Recipe for grilled asparagus with blood oranges and tapenade toast

Serves 4

From Alice Waters’ inspirational and beautifully illustrated book “Chez Panisse Vegetables”. This is her typically relaxed Californian take on a classic combination of asparagus and oranges. Classical French cuisine does this by primly serving steamed asparagus presented in white napkin with the orange flavoured hollandaise known as Sauce Maltaise. All very well but a tad formal. In contrast, just reading Alice Waters’ recipe transports you to Californian wine country and the perfect al fresco supper…


For the tapenade

2 cups niçoise (black) olives, pitted
4 salt-packed anchovy fillets
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons capers
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the rest of the dish

1 shallot
3 blood oranges
1 and 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 and 1/2 pounds fat (green) asparagus – 25 to 30 spears
4 slices country-style bread

First make the tapenade. Peel and smash the garlic with a pinch of salt. Using a food processor, pulse together the olive. anchovies, garlic and capers to make a coarse paste. Add the lemon juice and then gradually the olive oil, pulsing until completely incorporated. Put into a small bowl and set aside.

Peel and chop the shallot finely and macerate for 30 minutes in the juice of half an orange and the balsamic and red wine vinegars. Whisk in the olive oil to make a vinaigrette, and season with salt and pepper.

Peel just the zest from one of the oranges, chop it very fine and add to the vinaigrette. Cut away all the rind and pith from 2 and a half oranges (one half was used earlier for juicing) and slice them crosswise thinly into rounds.

Parboil and drain the asparagus. Brush lightly with olive oil, salt lightly and grill the asparagus ideally over charcoal or a wood fire for about 6 minutes over medium heat, turning often. At the same time, grill the bread.

When the bread is toasted, cut the slices into thirds and spread with tapenade. Arrange the asparagus on a platter with the orange slices on top. Drizzle the vinaigrette over and garnish with the tapenade toast.

Recipe for white asparagus and new potato salad with mustard and walnut vinaigrette

Serves 8 as a side dish

An idea I came up with whilst in France this easter. A good way of stretching a single bunch of asparagus into a dish to feed more than one or two people. The combination of white on white looks good, the chives add both colour and delicate onion flavour. The walnut oil imparts a delicious flavour to the salad without overpowering either the asparagus or the new potatoes. Reading the list of ingredients, I’m transported away from my computer screen in grey and cloudy Manchester to a sunny lunch table in France once more.


1 bunch white asparagus (500g)
650g small new potatoes
small bunch chives

For the dressing

3 tablespoons light olive oil
3 tablespoons walnut or hazelnut oil
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar plus a teaspoon of sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
squeeze of lemon juice to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Wash, peel and trim the white asparagus. Steam for 10-15 minutes until soft but not mushy. Leave to cool, then slice each spear on the bias into 3 or 4 pieces. Set aside.

Prepare the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients. Taste and check for flavour and seasoning.

Scrub the new potatoes (no need to peel) and steam for 10 minutes or until cooked through (test with the point of a knife).

As soon as the potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice into chunks and tip into a bowl. Pour three quarters of the dressing over and stir. Leave for 5-10 minutes to allow the warm potatoes to absorb the dressing.

Add the reserved pieces of asparagus, the remaining dressing and a generous quantity of snipped chives to the bowl and stir carefully to distribute.

Transfer to a serving dish lined with little gem or baby cos lettuce leaves.

Contact details for Seabreeze Asparagus

Alison Cooper
Priory Road Site
Priory Road
Wrentham Beccles
NR34 7LR

Phone number 01502675330
E-mail address alison@wveg.co.uk

Two pretty lazy tarts…

May 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

No, not a reference to Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie amongst the guests at That Wedding, but a pair of recipes to make the most of newly arrived asparagus. Both have the advantage that you can feed some 6 people with a single prized bunch.

Both recipes are dead simple as you start with bought puff pastry. Now that the all-butter stuff is readily available, there’s really no good reason to make your own, unless of course it’s your idea of fun.

The first recipe, pairing the asparagus with slow cooked sweet shallots, unctuous melted taleggio cheese and serrano ham, comes from an old issue of House and Garden magazine circa spring 2005 I think. I carefully clipped the recipe out a few years ago after first making this tart. I then lost the cutting and was never able to remember the ingredients so I was thrilled that it turned up again when I cleared out some old boxes of papers the other week.

The second tart came from an article by Lucas Hollweg in the Times Online May 2008. I came across it when searching for my first recipe, lost then but now found. It’s different but equally good, combining asparagus with garlic, cream and goats’ cheese, the flavours pointed up with a little mint and lemon zest.

The only potential technical pitfall with either recipe is avoiding the dreaded soggy bottom (Princesses, take note…). Making sure your oven is good and hot, and using shallow metal baking sheets should help avoid this problem.

Either tart would make a lovely light spring lunch served with a green salad. And either would be perfect for the group occasion when you need to bring along a dish for a buffet supper or posh picnic – a bit festive, can be made in advance, good warm or cold, tastes fantastic, easy to cut into portions and serve – what more can you ask?

Recipe for asparagus, basil, serrano ham and taleggio tart

With thanks to House and Garden magazine.

You can use either green or white asparagus but be sure to peel white asparagus first – this isn’t necessary with the green stuff. You can substitute other oozy soft-rinded cheeses if you can’t get hold of Taleggio. I’ve made this recipe successfully with slices of Reblochon and Tomme de Brébis previously as that was I had to hand in the fridge. Slices of a well flavoured Brie or Camembert would probably be good too. You can also substitute other cured hams for the serrano, or even leave the ham out if you’re cooking for a gathering including vegetarians.


450g puff pastry
4 tablespoons olive oil
250g shallots or mild onions, sliced
1 tablespoon finely sliced basil leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
500g fresh asparagus
85g finely sliced serrano ham
225g Taleggio cheese
Basil leaves to garnish

Heat the oven to 220 degrees C, gas mark 7. Roll out the pastry into a thin rectangle 35cm by 25cm and slip onto a baking sheet. Take a sharp knife and lightly score the pastry about 2cm inside the pastry edge, so that create a rim for the tart. Prick the internal rectangle of the pastry with a fork and chill for 30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and gently sauté the shallots until they are meltingly soft. Mix in the basil, season to taste and set aside. Meanwhile, trim the asparagus removing the tough ends of the stalks (peel if using white asparagus), then drop into a pan of boiling salted water; cook for about 5 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and spread out on kitchen paper to cool.

Spread the shallots over the pastry within the rim. Arrange the asparagus on top, then tear the ham into strips and scatter over the asparagus mixture. Cut the cheese into fine slices (the original recipe suggests cutting off the rind but I think this is unnecessary and wasteful). Dot over the filling.

Immediately place in the centre of the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 200 degrees C, gas mark 6 and cook for a further 10 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp and the cheese bubbling. Serve garnished with a few basil leaves.

Recipe for asparagus, lemon and goat’s cheese tart

With thanks to Lucas Hollweg for this recipe which appeared in The Times Online in May 2008.

Again, you can use either green or white asparagus but be sure to peel the white stuff first as otherwise it will be inedibly woody.


500g asparagus
250g puff pastry
2 cloves garlic
100ml double cream
zest of 1 lemon
150g soft white goat’s cheese
salt and pepper
1 egg
small handful mint leaves
olive oil

Throw the asparagus into a pan of boiling water. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 4-7 minutes until just soft. Tip into a colander and refresh under the cold tap.

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C/425 F/gas mark 7. Roll the puff pastry into a rough circle about 28cm diameter. Put it onto a large baking sheet, then use the tip of a knife to score a line all the way around, about 1cm from the edge. Don’t cut all the way through; it’s just to form a rim for the tart. Prick the centre with a fork. Cook in the oven for 5 minutes until it starts to rise and brown.

Meanwhile, mix together the garlic, cream, lemon zest and half the cheese. Season, then beat in the egg. Remove the pastry from the oven and flatten the centre inside the border to make a well. Pour in the cream mixture, being careful that it doesn’t spill over the edge. Arrange the asparagus randomly over the top and scatter with the remaining goat’s cheese and the mint leaves. Add a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper.

Turn the oven down to 200 degrees C/400 degrees F/gas mark 6 and bake for 20-25 minutes more until the pastry is crisp. Drizzle over a little more oil and leave for 20 minutes to cool.

A dish fit for princess…?

STOP PRESS – Pleased to see that an asparagus and watercress tart featured on the menu at That Wedding Reception

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