Essential ingredients: asparagus


Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

In the first of a new monthly feature on seasonal produce, our Head Chef Stewart Turner dishes up a simple asparagus starter, while Richard Veal from our Private Wine Events team suggests wines to partner the season’s slender stems.

On the plate: Asparagus is one of the truly great seasonal treats in an age when we are used to eating everything all year. Full-flavoured, deliciously sweet and tender, British asparagus is regularly described as the ‘best in the world’ and it really has no comparison. While the British climate may not be great for getting a tan, but it provides optimum growing conditions for asparagus. The season is relatively short, from April to June, so we are right in the middleat the moment. With such a great ingredient I like to keep things simple to really show off the flavour of the asparagus. This lovely starter is just perfect for early summer lunch or dinner parties.

In the glass: Asparagus isn’t a challenging pairing with wine, well, not more so than broccoli, kohlrabi, cabbage or kale. It’s the fact that these other, worthy vegetables don’t take centre stage, so rightfully prominently, for such a short season that has given the asparagus wine-pairing conundrum such status. We understand asparagus, it’s pungent, light and earthy with a delicate texture. If you can accurately apply those descriptions to the wine you want to pair, you’ll be dining very well.

Thankfully there are a number that fit; Villa Diamante’s Fiano di Avellino for one, with its tight acidity and flinty fruit, is fragrantly expansive. A lighter more generous combination with asparagus is the Samos Muscat which aromatically complements the spring spears so fantastically; although we should wonder if it’s necessary to forego another opportunity for Champagne. Eric Rodez’s Blanc de Noirs has enough of the forest floor alongside perfect Pinot Noir density to make a wonderful partnership. For all the astringency, salt, spice and texture of Stewart’s asparagus mimosa I would suggest Le Soula Blanc; rich and tight, fruity and acidic, mineral and floral, this vinous contradiction does ever so well.

Asparagus mimosaServes 4
  • 2 free range eggs
  • 2 bunches of medium asparagus (500g in total, trimmed weight)
  • 3 tbsp best-quality olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp small capers, drained
  • Maldon sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 radishes
  • ½ bunch chives – chopped
  • Espelette pepper

Place the eggs in a small saucepan, cover with boiling water and cook for 10 minutes. Refresh in cold water and peel. Grate the egg on the fine side of the grater and set aside.

Combine the lemon juice and olive oil. Season well with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Stir in the capers and chives. Finely slice the radish and place in some iced water.

Cook the asparagus in plenty of salted boiling water for about 3 minutes, until just cooked – be careful not to overcook it.

Transfer the asparagus to serving plates. Spoon over the dressing, and sprinkle over the grated egg and radish slices. Finish with a pinch of Espelette pepper.