Bring me my spears . . . it’s asparagus time
PUBLISHED: 11:00 26 April 2016 | UPDATED: 11:00 26 April 2016
Linda Duffin is in The Kitchen Garden
At this time of the year I don’t see much of my husband except a trail of mucky footprints, unless he comes in gasping for a cold beer. He’s in the vegetable garden all day, earthing up spuds, pinching out the tips on the broad beans, planting brassicas and leeks in their final growing positions, hardening off the outdoor tomatoes, courgettes and pumpkins, thinning the lettuce, spinach and carrot seedlings, sowing tender herbs and weeding and watering. If I’m lucky, though, he reappears carrying a basket full of the most anticipated of the year’s harvest, fresh asparagus.
Digging an asparagus bed was almost the first thing we did when we made the kitchen garden, right after rabbit-proofing it to keep the bunnies at bay. You can grow asparagus from seed, but it’s easier to plant one-year-old crowns, either in early spring, or in the autumn when the soil has warmed up.
Dig a trench 20 cm deep by 30 cm wide and put plenty of well-rotted manure or garden compost in the bottom, forming it into a 10 cm high ridge. Drape the spidery asparagus crowns over the ridge, 35-40 cm apart, and back-fill with the excavated soil, watering in and mulching well. Then, I’m afraid, it’s a long wait before you can enjoy the fruits of your labours because you shouldn’t cut asparagus until the third year, although most gardeners will sneak a few spears in year two.
The good news, though, is that the first English asparagus is hitting the shops and farmers’ markets around now and it’s so much better than the imported stuff that’s available all year round. These twice-baked soufflés can be made in advance and popped in the fridge or even the freezer, then finished (defrosted,obviously) with the glaze just before you want to eat.
Twice-baked Asparagus and Goat’s Cheese Soufflés
300g trimmed asparagus (about 500g before trimming) 100g butter 100g plain flour 300 ml whole milk, warmed 2-3 tbsp finely grated parmesan 4 large eggs, separated, plus 1 egg white (save the extra yolk for the glaze) 150 ml soft rindless goat’s cheese, crumbled Salt and pepper For the glaze:50 ml double cream 25g grated parmesan 1 egg yolk
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6. Wash the asparagus and snap off and discard the woody ends. Cut into small chunks, reserving the tips.
Steam the stems for about eight minutes or until tender, then run cold water over them, drain and lay on kitchen paper to dry and cool. Steam the tips for about three minutes until just tender, then drain and cool and put to one side. In a food processor, blend the stems to a purée. You may need to sieve it too to get it really smooth. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a saucepan and use some to liberally butter six 200 ml ramekins. Stir the flour into the remaining butter and cook for a few minutes on a low heat.
Gradually whisk in the milk and cook gently until you have a smooth, creamy sauce. It must be very thick because the asparagus purée will loosen it again.
Stir in the parmesan and set aside to cool a little before beating in four egg yolks, one at a time. Mix in the purée and goat’s cheese, season with salt and pepper and transfer to a big bowl.
In another, scrupulously clean bowl, beat the eggs whites until they’re just stiff enough to hold peaks. Stir a tablespoon of the egg whites into the sauce mixture to loosen it, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites, one third at a time, using cutting and folding movements so you don’t lose the air.
Spoon the mixture into the ramekins, pushing the asparagus spears under the surface, and sit the pots in a roasting tin. Pour boiling water into the tin to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the soufflés are risen and coloured.
Remove from the oven and the water bath. Cool for 10 minutes then run a knife around the edges and turn them out, upside down, onto a lightly oiled baking tray. They will sink back but puff up again when reheated.
Whisk up the glaze ingredients and drizzle over the soufflés. Bake for 10 minutes at the same temperature as before, then flash under the grill until golden on top.