Bring me my spears: Skye Gyngell's asparagus tips

It may be here for only six weeks of the year, but its sweet nuttiness has Skye Gyngell singing a hymn of praise to the delights of English asparagus

I'm always eager for the first box of English asparagus to arrive. The season traditionally straddles May and early June, and lasts just six weeks in total, but it can vary a little. This year, our box at Petersham arrived a little earlier than usual, due to the big freeze before Christmas and the warm spring we've had.

Like most vegetables, asparagus starts to lose its sweetness as soon as it is picked, so it is important to choose the freshest specimens. Spears should be firm, smooth and brightly coloured, with a vibrant bloom to the stem. Look for heads that are firm and compact.

Use asparagus as soon as possible after buying. If you need to store it briefly, treat it like cut flowers – stand the spears upright in a jar of water and place in the fridge.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627,

Asparagus with romesco and crème fraîche

Serves 4

For the romesco sauce

12 blanched almonds
12 hazelnuts
2 tomatoes, peeled and ripe
100ml/3 fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
1 whole red chilli (the ancho variety if you can get hold of one)
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp good-quality sherry vinegar
1 tsp sweet-smoked paprika (I prefer Spanish to Hungarian)
1 thick slice of chewy, peasant-style bread (such as ciabatta)
Sea salt

For the asparagus

20 asparagus spears
A good pinch of sea salt
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
A few drops of lemon juice
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp crème fraîche

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Place the nuts on a baking tray and roast on the middle shelf for 3 minutes to colour them slightly, then roughly pound to a paste.

Next, place the tomatoes on a baking tray and drizzle with a dash of olive oil. Place in the oven along with the whole chilli, and roast for 10 minutes. Remove and mix with the nuts. Add the garlic, sherry vinegar and paprika, and mix. Blitz the bread in a blender until you have crumbs, lay them on a baking tray and bake until golden. Add to the nut mixture, pour in the remaining olive oil and season. Stir well to combine.

Place a large pot of water on to boil and season liberally with salt. While the water is coming to the boil, prepare the asparagus by snapping off their woody ends. Plunge the vegetables into the water and cook until just tender when pierced with a knife. Cooking time will largely depend on the size and thickness of the spears, but as a general rule of thumb, it should take

about 1 minutes. Drain and dress with the olive oil and lemon and a little sea salt and pepper. Divide among 4 plates, or one large plate if you prefer.

Divide the crème fraîche between the plates and sprinkle the romesco sauce over the top. Serve immediately.

Asparagus with lemon mayonnaise

Spanish asparagus has been available in the shops since mid-January, but waiting for the English variety is so much more satisfying – not unlike the wait for British strawberries. I serve it here with a simple mayonnaise, whose sharp and unctuous consistency works beautifully with the sweet flavour of spring asparagus.

Serves 4

3 egg yolks
The juice of one lemon
A little sea salt and black pepper
150ml/5fl oz mild extra-virgin olive oil
8 asparagus spears per person

Place the egg yolks into a blender with the lemon juice and a little salt and pepper and combine. Slowly pour the oil through the funnel in the top with the blender running, drip by drip, until it is amalgamated, forming the mayonnaise. Set aside while you cook the asparagus as per the first recipe.

Once cooked, drain in a colander and season with a little salt and pepper and a teaspoon or so of olive oil.

Arrange on four plates and place a dollop of the mayonnaise on the side. This is just as good whether it's served warm or at room temperature.

Dorset crab with white asparagus

White asparagus is the same plant as asparagus, but its shoots are banked with earth as soon as they appear, keeping them underground and preventing them from turning green. This way they remain blanched, except for the tips, which are tinged violet. The sweet white crab meat and nutty, slightly tart raw asparagus are complemented by the rich mayonnaise.

Serves 4

200g/7oz hand-picked fresh white crab meat (don't bother with pasteurised crab meat – its taste is very poor)
4 white asparagus stems
Juice of a lemon
1 tsp lemon zest
40ml/1 fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the lemon mayonnaise

3 egg yolks
tbsp Dijon mustard
Juice of 1 lemons
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
500ml/17fl oz of gentle extra-virgin olive oil, such as a Sicilian or Ligurian

To finish

1 tsp finely chopped curly parsley

Prepare the mayonnaise as per the previous recipe, adding the mustard to the mix at the start. This recipe uses far more oil as it is intended to make a far thicker, glossier mayonnaise that sticks to your spoon; I like it this way, but you can use a little less if you prefer it runnier.

Place the crab in a mixing bowl. Pick over to remove any shell. Wash and pat dry the asparagus. Slice finely on the bias, discarding the tough, woody end. Place in the bowl along with the crab, add the lemon juice, zest and olive oil and toss lightly to combine. Season with a good pinch of salt and a couple of grindings of black pepper.

Finish with the parsley and divide between four plates. Spoon over the mayonnaise, and serve with extra lemon.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    ICE ICT: Lead Business Consultant

    £39,000: ICE ICT: Specific and detailed knowledge and experience of travel sys...

    Day In a Page

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map