Food and Drink: Hop tops, fiddlesticks] Fiddlenecks, fine

As my readers know, I am not among the most politically correct, but I am with the ecologists when they say that there are many more things in nature worth tasting than most of us ever try. I do not mean on the wilder shores of fantasy: the glasswort, hop tops, sow thistles, goutweed and the like. Useful to know about on a survival exercise, no doubt excellent fodder, but more for animals than humans.

Spring is, theoretically, upon us. This I know not because of the weather, which is foul here in Boston, but because the F A Cup is coming up and I have to make serious arrangements with an Irish pub, to watch at 10am my beloved Chelsea, who will be at Wembley in one of those wilder fantasies of which I was so dismissive. And spring means that all sorts of things spring up in my garden. For instance, fiddleneck, or fiddlehead, an annual herb or fern with hairy leaves and curved spikes that result in tiny blue flowers. If you spot anything pale greenish-yellow that looks like the neck of a violin, buy it. Its flavour is variously described as tart or sweet (depending on whether or not you like it) and its effect, mingled with mushrooms, has a way of making the whole rather more than the sum of its parts.

Fiddlenecks are excellent in a pasta sauce. They are cut into lengths just short of the flowers, dropped into boiling water, and simmered for about 90 seconds. They are then drained, refreshed, in cold running water, and drained again. Finally, you spend a little time removing as much as you can of the paper-like tissue that surrounds them.

The sauce is made of any fresh mushrooms, sauteed in olive oil, a clove of garlic and a chopped shallot. It takes between three and four minutes for your mushrooms to soften and throw off their juice. At this point, stop stirring, add finely diced pancetta (just enough to salt the dish), cook briefly, then add the fiddlenecks and toss until heated through. Cook your pasta - I recommend linguine because it provides even distribution for a sauce - al dente, drain it and pour into a heated bowl; stir in a tablespoon of the best olive oil, and add your fiddlenecks and mushrooms together with a few leaves of fresh rocket. This dish should be eaten neat: parmesan would be supererogatory.

Another joy coming in quantity - though not in my garden - is asparagus. There is, of course, nothing in the vegetable world to compare with the Great White Asparagus; but white asparagus, like white fish, has to be handled with delicacy. It is so good as itself that to combine it with improbable, experimental flavours is nothing short of abuse.

The gastronomical secret of asparagus, as of much cooking, lies either in contrasting or combining flavours. Markus Rippberger, a Swiss chef now working in Boston, is an enthusiastic propagandist for white asparagus, and makes an excellent dish in which white asparagus, minus its woody ends, is boiled in a shallow pan to which sea salt is added. As the asparagus is white, rich and earthy, his secret is to blend it with a much-reduced sauce of red peppers. This sauce is simple to make, the peppers being prepared as Italians do for peperoncini, by grilling them until the skin is black, turning them regularly. The skin now comes off easily, after which you cut them into slices. In a hot oven, bake a large onion until the skin is crisp and the inside soft. Combine the peppers and onion in a blender, add a clove of garlic, a tablespoon of olive oil, and puree.

A fine lamb dish with asparagus, this time the green sort, is made by first cooking the asparagus (equal in weight to your lean lamb, which should be cut into large chunks) and cutting off the tips. These are set aside. You then cook the stems, in the same water, for another five or six minutes, or until tender. Puree them and save the liquid. Toss the lamb, dipped in flour, in olive oil (a bland variety will do here), and when browned, reduce the heat and cook with an onion, finely chopped. Slowly pour in your asparagus water and stir until it thickens. Simmer until the meat is tender, which takes about half an hour. At that point, stir in your asparagus puree and season to taste with salt, pepper and a bit of fresh tarragon. Reheat your asparagus tips in boiling water (briefly]) and garnish the lamb with them. The result is a very subtle and satisfying blend of flavours: the opposite of white asparagus and red pepper, which is designed to set off the succulence of the asparagus.

Green asparagus tips (say 2- 3in), of course, make for an excellent addition to pasta (cook the asparagus, toss in oil and throw into the pasta, mixing vigorously so the tips break up into smaller portions. I like this dish warm, not hot, and sprinkled with lemon thyme. It flatters the asparagus.

If you can't find fiddlenecks, plant them. They grow wild, and if they survive a winter in my garden, they'll survive in yours.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Day In a Page

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world