In my pursuit to try and be more adventurous in the kitchen and to learn more about flavours, I have made a resolution that each month, I will try and focus on one ‘in-season’ ingredient and experiment with complimentary flavours and great dishes you can make with it (and obviously, blog about the results.) I’m not quite certain how many dishes I will manage to cook each month, particularly as there is the obvious risk of getting bored of eating the ingredient too often in a short space of time but I think at least one a week is feasible (I hope!) A couple of Christmas’ ago, I received Niki Segnit’s book, ‘The Flavour Thesaurus’ as a gift and although it’s a fascinating little book, I don’t think I’ve ever quite made the most of it, so this is a great opportunity to try some of the flavour combinations highlighted in there.
As the first month for this challenge is May, it seems only appropriate to start with one of the UK’s ingredients with the shortest season- asparagus. Although you can get asparagus from the supermarkets all year round, which is usually shipped in from South America, asparagus is one of those ingredients that really suffers from the long journey and is best consumed as soon after harvest at possible, so it is best to make the most of it in the U.K. during May and June. Asparagus is quite a pricey vegetable (my fresh bunch from the greengrocers was £3.75) and is often considered to be a delicacy so most top chefs don’t recommend you mess around with it too much, it has enough flavour of it’s own to be enjoyed simply with some butter drizzled over it. That said, Niki Segnit recommends some more vivid flavour combinations that I hope to try as the month goes on.
However, today I thought it was best start with a fairly simple serving; blanched asparagus spears served with butter, grated hard cheese and flaked almonds. Dairy products are well known as a perfect match to asparagus- you can serve it just simply with the butter and cheese and it will still be a delicious treat but and the lemon and almonds were both recommended in the flavour thesaurus and I thought I would try this combination out.
It turned out to be a lovely, easy treat to make; simply boil the asparagus spears for 2-3 minutes then remove them from the heat and keep them warm. Add a generous knob of butter and some almonds to a pan and heat them up. Once the butter starts to bubble, just before it starts to go brown, squeeze in a small amount of lemon juice and then pour the butter/almond/lemon mix over the asparagus spears. Finally, to serve, grate some hard cheese over the top and a sprinkle of black pepper. While the recipe I initially used for reference recommended Spanish Manchego cheese for this, I found that to be a little on the mild side and decided to add some parmesan for a much stronger flavour- it goes deliciously with the nutty flavour in the asparagus and the almonds.
I enjoyed the spears served simply, with some crushed new potatoes to bulk the dish up to a full meal, rather than a starter and it made a delicious vegetarian dinner. (Be wary with your cheese selection if you are serving the dish to veggies though, as a large number of hard cheese contain rennet!)
Next week, I will hopefully try something a bit more substantial with the asparagus- any recommended dishes you think I should try?