Once the magnolia and cherries have bloomed, and the candy-striped apple blossoms are peeking through, I know that the first bunches of tender, pencil-thin asparagus are on their way.
Their short season (usually just six weeks) and expense lends this vegetable a covetable status that few other veg could lay claim to. Nevertheless, it makes up for its brevity with its extreme versatility: it’s perfectly happy being steamed, griddled, boiled, or even tossed onto hot coals, if you’re after a smoky vibe. The spears can be kept raw and shaved into a salad; or wrapped in Parma ham, roasted and dunked into your soft-boiled egg for a Sunday morning treat; steamed and drizzled with lemony butter or a rich Hollandaise; or sprinkled with gremolata if you’re wanting a bit of texture contrast (gremolata is an Italian condiment comprising lemon zest, parsley and garlicky breadcrumbs).
At the start of the season the asparagus is still thin on the ground so I’ve suggested a recipe that might help you make those first bunches go a little further- an Asparagus and Lemon Ricotta Tart.
In line with the tart theme, this week’s dessert is a Molasses Apple Tart, which I served with a generous dollop of Chantilly cream, though a ball of vanilla ice-cream melting through the molasses ooze could have been even better. I know we are trying to celebrate seasonality in this weekly post and it’s not exactly apple season, so would it be too much of a stretch to claim that this dessert is in honour of that glorious deep pink apple blossom that’s starting to burst forth all over my neighbourhood? Either way, it’s a great tart and a cinch to prepare- now, who can argue with that?
Main Course- Asparagus and Lemon Ricotta Tart
Ingredients: 160g puff pastry (I used half of a packet of puff pastry for each tart), 100g ricotta, 1 egg, bunch of asparagus, zest of 1 lemon, few sprigs of thyme, salt and pepper, 25g grated Parmesan.
Method: Divide the puff sheet into two rectangles and place each on a lightly greased baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 200C.
In a bowl, mix the ricotta, lemon zest, egg, half the Parmesan, salt and pepper. Spread this mixture one of the puff pastry rectangles, leaving a 1 inch border clear of the mixture. Egg wash this 1 inch surround. Place the spears onto the mixture and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan and thyme sprigs. Bake for 15-20 mins, but do keep an eye on things towards the end of the cooking time because the puff can easily burn.
Serve with a watercress salad.
Dessert- Molasses Apple Tart
Ingredients: 1 Pink Lady apple, juice of 1/2 lemon, 2 tbsp molasses sugar, pinch of salt, 160g puff pastry.
Method: Preheat the oven to 200C. Core the apple and cut in half, then slice into half-moon shapes as thin as you can. Pop these into a bowl with the lemon juice, sugar and salt. Set aside for 10 mins to allow the flavours to mingle. Place the apple slices in rows along the length of the puff rectangle and egg wash the 1 inch surround as before. Bake at 200C for 15 mins. If you like your apples to look super glossy, just brush them with a little warmed honey.
Serve with Chantilly cream or vanilla ice cream.
Remember you can find more of Jo’s lovely recipes at her blog Jo Clare Orr