This Month's Recipe...
May - Asparagus with Pea Shoots and Mint
Pea shoots are an established vegetable now. They have been stocked by Sainsbury's for the past five years and I often see them in markets. They are increasingly available in good food shops, too, and you can get them via mail order from Goodness Direct (www.goodnessdirect.co.uk; tel: 0871 871 6611).
When they are cooked – lightly fried in a little oil or butter, or even steamed for a minute – they have all the taste of a good, sweet garden pea, or indeed a frozen pea, but with the added bonus of being lively plants. They appear around the same time as English asparagus and, while I am always happy to eat asparagus plain, the combination of the sweetness in the pea shoots and the unique grassy flavour of the asparagus is joyfully vernal.
1kg/2¼lb new-season asparagus
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 punnets of pea shoots
a few small mint leaves
finely grated zest of ½ lemon
sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
For the sauce:
1 shallot, chopped
a grating or two of nutmeg
2 wineglasses of white wine
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
225g/8oz unsalted butter, softened
Pare away the outer skin of each spear, taking off about 6cm/2½ inches from the base of the stem. Bring a large, shallow pan of water to the boil. Before cooking the asparagus, however, make the sauce. Put the shallot, nutmeg, white wine and white wine vinegar in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Cook until the liquid has reduced to about 3 tablespoons, then strain it through a sieve and return it to the pan, discarding the shallot. Add the butter, about a teaspoon at a time, whisking it into the liquor over a low heat. When all the butter has been used, the sauce should be thick and creamy.
Add the asparagus to the pan of boiling water; it will need about 5 minutes' simmering to become just tender. Meanwhile, put the oil in a small frying pan and fry the pea shoots in it until they collapse slightly.
Using tongs, lift the asparagus out of the water and drain on a cloth (I find asparagus breaks up if you tip it into a colander, and that it needs the cloth to get rid of excess water, which can make it soggy). Divide the asparagus between 4-6 warm serving plates and heap the pea shoots over the tips. Give the sauce one final whisk over the heat to amalgamate it (it will split a little if left, but it will 'come back'), then pour it generously over the asparagus. Season with a little salt and pepper and scatter the mint leaves and lemon zest over the top. Eat immediately, and, if you are in festive mode, serve as a starter before Fried Megrim Sole (on page 260 of The New English Table) or the lamb with sprig vegetables on page 235 of the same book.
Recipe from The New English Table. Purchase a signed copy here.