Seasonal sensations: asparagus


Photograph: Jason Lowe

In the heart of asparagus season, our Head Chef serves up Britain’s best spears with a quick and easy tart

British asparagus is a true vegetable hero: the season starts in mid-April and if we are lucky it will last until the end of June. It must be one of, if not our greatest seasonal product and I just can’t get enough. In terms of flavour, colour and overall look, British asparagus has no equal.

Asparagus deteriorates relatively quickly after picking, which is why freshly picked British asparagus is to jet-lagged, imported asparagus what dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant is to eating a TV dinner.

Asparagus is so versatile you could eat it a different way every day of the season. Grilled, steamed, roasted or shaved, there are absolutely hundreds of asparagus recipes.

This is a Turner household favourite and one that was first cooked for me by my daughter’s godmother Jessica, who – I must say – is a fantastic cook. An asparagus tart, originally made with puff pastry, Boursin and asparagus, I like to think I have enhanced it a bit over the years. The following recipe was served as a middle course at our recent asparagus dinner, a six-course homage to this spectacular vegetable. It works fantastically well as a starter or light supper, or even as an accompaniment to meat or fish dishes.

Asparagus tartServes 6
  • 500g rolled puff pastry sheets
  • 150g cream cheese
  • 1 egg
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 bunch chives – finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic – finely chopped
  • 3 bunches of asparagus spears
  • 25g Parmesan – grated
  • A handful of pea shoots

For the pea salsa:

  • 100g podded peas
  • 1 banana shallot – finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli – deseeded and finely chopped
  • 30ml extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1tbsp parsley – chopped
  • 1tsp mint – chopped

Preheat the oven to 200⁰C. Trim the asparagus. Cut the puff pastry sheet into two rectangles, approximately 30cm by 15cm, so there is a 1cm either side of the asparagus. Roll or turn in the edges of the pastry to create a border, and place on greaseproof paper on a baking tray.

Beat together the cream cheese, egg, lemon zest, chives and garlic. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, and spread over the pastry. Top and tail the asparagus over the cream cheese mix to completely cover, then sprinkle with the Parmesan. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes until the pastry is golden.

While the tart is baking, make the pea salsa. Sweat the shallot in a good glug of olive oil, until soft but not coloured. Cook the peas in boiling salted water until just cooked, then refresh in iced water. In a bowl, mix the peas, shallot, chilli and herbs, pour in the olive oil and season to taste. Just before serving, add the lemon juice.

Once the tart is cooked portion each one into three and scatter over the pea salsa. Finish with some pea shoots and serve.