GWhen rowing, asparagus was an unimaginable luxury. Something to dream about in restaurants with high ceilings, white tablecloths, friendly maître d’s and silver sauce boats with melted butter. Although I lived a short drive from the Vale of Evesham, I didn’t taste a single spear until I worked in a big restaurant, where we stole one or two off the silver trays on the way to the dining room. To this day, it still feels like a luxury.
I had no idea at the time what it took to put a bunch in stores. The hand harvest on bent knees; the care that pickers must take to protect the crown, each asparagus cuts just below the surface with its trusted asparagus knife and V-shaped blade. Nor did I know of the care that was taken to bring the spears to market with their fragile points intact. I bring them home from the store on top of my tote bag, the delicate bundle snuggled between the brown paper bags of veggies like a baby in a crib.
At this point in the season, when the price is down, I’ll use my spears in a salad with strips of Culatello or San Daniele, tucked into a brown rice pilau with mint and peas, or add them to a pastry. topped cake made from broad beans, peas and crème fraîche. Asparagus works well on the griddle, although I like it best if it’s been steamed beforehand. It’s juicier this way and you get smoky notes from the grill.
Asparagus and Ricotta Fritters
As you cook these green-speckled donuts, keep track of their progress and try to catch them while their insides are still soft and slightly creamy. Served 4
ricotta 200 g
asparagus 2 bundles
spring onions 2
eggs 2, large
pecorino 30g, finely grated
plain flour 50g
peanut or vegetable oil something to fry
Place a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl, add the ricotta and allow to drain in the fridge for an hour or more. This will help perfect the consistency of the batter, which shouldn’t be too wet. Clean the asparagus, removing the hard ends of the stalks. Cut the stalks into thin, small slices, then place in a bowl. Finely chop the spring onions. Finely grate the zest from the lemon. Remove the stalks from the dill, chop finely and add to the asparagus with the lemon zest.
Crack the eggs into a small bowl, lightly beat them with a fork, then stir them into the asparagus and dill with a little salt and ground black pepper, the grated pecorino, the flour and the ricotta purée. Mix lightly but thoroughly.
Heat some oil in a flat pan that doesn’t stick – you only need a thin film. Spoon the batter into the pan, about 2 heaping tablespoons at a time, flatten the tops slightly with the back of a spoon, then cook for 3 or 4 minutes. When the undersides are mottled golden, slide a pallet knife under each and flip and fry the other side. Do it in one quick, confident swipe.
Grilled chicken with fennel seeds and spiced butter
To follow the donuts this week, we ate chicken, marinated and grilled. You could ask the butcher to debone the chicken drumsticks for you. If you feel like trying it yourself, then slide your knife through the skin and flesh, keeping the blade as close to the bone as possible. Use your fingers to separate the bones from the chicken flesh. If there are a few holes when you’re done, don’t worry. You won’t notice them once the meat is on the grill. Served 4
For the butter:
hot peppers 1 teaspoon
ground coriander 1 teaspoon
dried oregano 2 Tea spoons
garlic 2 cloves
lemon bowl of 1
For the spice rub:
black peppercorns 1 teaspoon
fennel seeds 2 Tea spoons
dried thyme 4 tsp
dried rose petals 2 Tea spoons
chicken legs 4, on the bone
lemon or orange wedges
Soften the butter in a bowl with a wooden spoon. Blend the paprika, coriander and oregano into the butter along with a few turns of the pepper grinder.
Peel the garlic and mash to a paste with a pinch of salt flakes, then stir into the butter. Finely grate the lemon zest and stir in. If using the butter immediately keep in a cool place, if making for later wrap tightly in parchment paper and refrigerate.
Place one chicken thigh, skin-side down, on a cutting board. Using a very sharp knife, cut into the flesh and remove the bone. You’ll be left with a flat rectangle of meat. Place skin-side down on a tray or plate and continue with the rest. Brush them with some oil on both sides.
Prepare the spice rub: Crush the peppercorns in a mortar, then stir in the fennel seeds and thyme and press down briefly with the pestle. Stir in rose petals. Sprinkle over the chicken, flip to flavor both sides, then set aside in a cool place until done.
Get a grill pan or griddle hot. Place the chicken skin side down in the pan and sear until golden brown, about 8 minutes, then sear the other side. Once the chicken is cooked – its juices should be clear and not pink – season generously with salt. Add most of the butter to the grill pan and allow to bubble and froth – there will be some smoke – Turn the chicken so that it is well coated in the butter.
Serve the chicken on warm plates, slather on the browned butter and a lemon or orange wedge.
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