St George’s Day, which falls this year on 23 April, traditionally marks the start of asparagus season in the UK. From asparagus with hollandaise sauce to a lemony prawn and asparagus orzo, these simple recipes are sure to put a spring in your step.
There are few vegetables as elegant as the asparagus. Partly, this is down to the shape: those beautifully long, slim fingers with their pointed, petal-like tips. But it’s also thanks to asparagus’s green, delicate taste and juicy, tender texture, both of which mean it can be cooked extremely simply and still be delicious. A plate of lightly steamed asparagus spears, topped with a melting knob of butter and seasoned with sea salt and cracked black pepper, is one of the most straightforward but sophisticated dishes you could possibly make.
But there’s a whole world of other asparagus recipes out there, too. And now’s the perfect time to cook with the vegetable, since late April marks the start of asparagus season in the UK (it traditionally kicks off on St George’s Day). If you’re a fan of asparagus with hollandaise sauce, you’ll love food writer and beer expert Melissa Cole’s ‘fluffy’ saison hollandaise recipe, which would make a perfect starter for your next Zoom dinner party.
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For sides, chef Gill Meller’s recipe for new potatoes with asparagus, butter, parsley, mint and chives is an ideal accompaniment to a spring Sunday lunch. And if you love asparagus risotto or prawn and asparagus pasta, try Yasmin Fahr’s Greek-inspired recipe for lemony orzo with prawns, asparagus and feta: it’s a deceptively simple showstopper that can be easily tweaked to use any other kind of pasta you have in the cupboard.
But whatever you do, don’t hang about. Asparagus season ends in late June, around the summer solstice – so let’s make the most of it while we can.
Lemony orzo with prawns, asparagus and feta recipe
Yasmin Fahr says: Whenever I’m in Greece, my goal is to have a Greek salad or really anything that involves feta as often as possible – you could also argue that I do this when not in Greece. This Greek-inspired dish is my at-home version that gets a bit of a textural crunch and boost of colour from asparagus, for a bright, lemony pasta dish.
Tips: You could also add in some sliced baby plum (grape) tomatoes with the asparagus to make it saucier. Prep the ingredients while you bring the water to a boil and while the orzo is cooking. Use this time to toss the prawns with the oregano.
Serves 2, 4 for sharing
Prep 5 minutes
Total 25 minutes
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 200 g (7 oz) orzo
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the pasta
- 2 garlic cloves, grated or minced
- 1/2 teaspoon dried red chilli flakes
- 250 g (9 oz) asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into 2.5 cm (1 in) pieces
- 10–12 peeled medium prawns (shrimp), deveined (about 450 g/1 lb)
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 15 g (1/2 oz) fresh basil or parsley leaves and fine stems, roughly chopped
- juice of 2 lemons
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 75 g (21/2 oz) feta (preferably Bulgarian), crumbled
Fill a 30 cm (12 in) frying pan (skillet) or flameproof casserole dish (Dutch oven) two-thirds of the way with water, salt to taste like the sea and bring to a vigorous boil over a high heat.
Add the orzo and cook according to package instructions until just shy of al dente, about 7–9 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain into a colander in the sink, then run through with olive oil, using a wooden spoon to stir, and leave in the sink or transfer to a bowl.
Wipe out the frying pan with a paper towel and return to a medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil and heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and chilli flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant but not browned, about 30 seconds.
Add the asparagus, season with salt and pepper and stir to coat.
Cook until the asparagus is tender but retains a crisp bite, about 3–4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, toss the prawns with the oregano to coat. Move the asparagus to the sides of the frying pan and add the prawns. Cook, turning the prawns occasionally, until they are pink and no longer translucent, about 3–4 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium, return the orzo back to the frying pan, along with most of the basil, the lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil and most of the feta, stirring to combine, until the orzo is warmed up, about 1–2 minutes more.
Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed, then top with remaining basil and feta and serve immediately.
From Keeping it Simple by Yasmin Fahr (£16.99, Hardie Grant), out now
New potatoes and asparagus in butter and herbs recipe
Gill Meller says: This recipe is based on the simple idea that butter and vegetables belong with each other, in the same way the shore belongs to the sea, the moon to the night, or a child to its mother.
Be generous with the herbs, but don’t worry if you can’t find all the varieties listed below – a combination of mint and parsley alone will do fine.
- 500g (1lb 2oz) new potatoes, cut into large bite-sized chunks
- 2 teaspoons fine salt
- 50g (1¾oz) butter
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin
- olive oil
- 1 small bunch of parsley, leaves picked and finely chopped
- 1 small bunch of mint, leaves picked and finely chopped with a few leaves left whole
- small bunch of chives, finely chopped with a few left long
- small bunch of chervil, finely chopped with a few leaves left whole
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 24 asparagus spears, trimmed
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place the potatoes in a large pan. Cover generously with cold water and set over a high heat. Add the salt and bring the water to the boil. Cook the potatoes for 8–15 minutes (cooking time will vary according to the variety and freshness of the potatoes), until tender.
Drain the potatoes in a colander, then return them to the pan. Add the butter, half the olive oil and half the chopped herbs. Spoon over the vinegar, then season the potatoes really well with salt and plenty of pepper. Tumble everything together to rough up the potatoes slightly, which makes everything more delicious and buttery. Cover and keep warm.
Fill another pan with water and bring the water to the boil over a high heat. Add the asparagus spears and cook for 2–4 minutes (the cooking time will vary according to the age and size of the asparagus), until tender. Drain and return to the pan. Trickle over the remaining olive oil and season well.
Scatter the warm potatoes over a large serving platter. Arrange the asparagus over the top. Finish the dish with the remaining chopped herbs, and a few whole ones, and bring to the table immediately.
From Time by Gill Meller (£25, Quadrille), out now, hardback & ebook available
Asparagus two ways with fluffy saison hollandaise recipe
Melissa Cole says: I love spring in the UK – the trees are bent low with blossom and there’s an air of expectation and optimism that’s almost tangible.
It’s also such a great time for fresh produce. Some of my most longed-for treats finally come to fruition in Britain in April and May and there is nothing, and I mean nothing, that compares to English green asparagus – sorry, but I’m not brooking any argument here. That Peruvian stuff you get in winter is flavourless, and don’t even get me started on that weird white stuff in jars!
- 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- pared zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
- 5 black peppercorns
- 125 g (4 oz) unsalted butter
- 8 English asparagus spears
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon ice-cold herbal saison or Belgian-style wheat beer
- nasturtium flowers (optional), to garnish
- fine sea salt
Warm the plates in a low oven.
Put a small pan on a high heat, add the vinegar, thyme, lemon zest and peppercorns and bring to the boil. Turn the heat off immediately and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.
Melt the butter in another pan over a low heat while you prepare the asparagus by trimming any tough ends. Skim any solids off the top of the butter, then leave it in the oven.
Strain the vinegar into a heatproof mixing bowl with the egg yolks and add a pinch of salt. Start heating a griddle pan and a steamer. Put about 5 cm (2 in) of water in a pan that will house your egg bowl without it touching the bottom. Bring it to the boil, then lower to a simmer.
Add a splash of ice-cold beer to the egg bowl, place on top of the pan of simmering water and start whisking briskly. Remove from the heat and start slowly adding the melted butter, whisking constantly until you have a rich, creamy hollandaise.
Place half the spears on the hot griddle pan and the other half in the steamer, then griddle or steam for 3–5 minutes (this will depend on the thickness of your asparagus – the stems should just yield to the tip of a sharp knife). Remove and place on a plate lined with some paper towel.
Take the hollandaise and add another splash of ice-cold beer and use a micro whisk to beat it into a lighter, more foamy sauce (a little coffee frother works well here too!).
Mix up the asparagus spears, pop them on your warmed plates, apply lashings of the hollandaise and decorate with the flowers, if using. Eat with your fingers.
From The Beer Kitchen by Melissa Cole (£20, Hardie Grant), out now
Photography © Patricia Niven, © Andew Montgomery