What a gorgeous week – as I write this in the blazing sunshine on my balcony, supping an ice cold beer, I reflect that perhaps summer really is starting. The benefits of this are twofold – firstly the unadulterated joy of casting off winter boots and scarves (despite freezing to death with the determination to wear flip flops whatever the actual temperature) and secondly, and far more importantly – Sparrow grass is in season! The wondrous combination of the recent good weather and seeing asparagus bursting onto shop shelves and recipe pages everywhere has inspired a voracious spate of asparagus guzzling in our house.
The beauty of asparagus is that it is such a versatile ingredient – a wonderful addition to risottos, salads, soups and many other dishes. I think its true majesty though, lies in just how fantastic it can be when served on its own or with simple accompaniments. So far this week I have enjoyed it with butter, with hollandaise, with mashed egg and also grilled with parmesan and balsamic glaze – I don’t usually eat it daily but as I said, the recent sunshine has made me over excited.
Sparrrow grass was also the inspiration behind a new risotto recipe that I created this week with smoked salmon and petit pois. For some reason all the way through the cooking process I was really doubting the dish as it did not look very appetising (hence no photograph – apologies ) but when it was finally served up it was delicious with a double thumbs up and request for it to be made again in the future (the ultimate accolade) from the fiance. I added lots of lemon into the mix which combined with the pea and asparagus created a really fragrant summery dish.
You could of course make a version of this without the smoked salmon – if you do I would recommend adding either mint or basil and parmesan at the last minute to jazz the flavours up a bit!
To serve four, finely chop two large onions (most recipes would recommend les but I like risotto to have a solid onion base! When the onions are softening, add a large cube of butter and pour in the rice so that it is covered in the butter and cook for about two minutes. Next pour in about half a bottle of wine – again often people just use a splash but the wine really adds to the final flavour. Allow the wine to absorb for a few minutes and then slowly add vegetable stock (I like Knorr stock pots – better than cubes if you can’t get fresh) a bit at a time while the rice absorbs it. When all the stock has been added (I used a litre for the whole pack of rice – pack instructions will tell you how much you need) add the asparagus – I trimmed the ends and cut the stalks into 3 before adding, peas (a handful) and the grated rind of half a lemon as well as a good squeeze of lemon juice. Finally add two tablespoons of cream cheese and lots of black pepper. When you are minutes away from serving, add finely chopped slices of smoked salmon and stir all the ingredients so they are thoroughly mixed – the perfect dish for spring.
From cooking to shopping and the highlight of my week was being sent a box of the East India Company’s Russian Caravan tea. When I was at college I had a wonderful, if rather eccentric friend who kept in excellent shape (as did his family) by only indulging in one meal a day (I am not recommending this by the way!) and their repast of choice was afternoon tea. This meant that I was regularly invited to all the best spots in London over a number of years and the regularity with which we visited and the range of places we went made us feel quite expert on the subject, we even set up a very greedy sort of scoring system based on whether the establishment offered you extra sandwiches, how many varieties of jam, types of cake etc. The venue, that in those days received my highest score, was the Dorchester and the reason for this was that at the time, they were one of the only hotels to include within their vast tea selection this wonderful smoky black variety of tea. I have never come across a ‘teabag’ at home version since so you can imagine my utter joy at receiving a box of them. In celebration, I have been treating myself to scones with cream and jam to accompany this king of teas all weekend. My favourite thing about this brand is the little story on the side of the box about where the rather unusual name came from:
The ‘Silk Road’ connected people, goods, and ideas between China, Central Asia, Europe and India for over 3000 years. The route was protected and taxed by the Great Khans of Mongolia. Weary travellers would rest at ‘caravanserai’ camps, and the evening tea became known as the ‘Caravan’ tea, this smoked Russian inspired tea is evocative of those evenings on the Silk Road.
Hooked, I went onto their website and discovered that all of the gorgeous goodies from the East India Company have these stories, with a lovely historical flavour about where the products traditionally came from or how they got their names on the packs. Their shop on Conduit Street is a veritable treasure trove of amazing treats. Next on my list to try is the Chocolate with sea salt and the range of Enrobed fruits and beans – As well as the usual coffee beans they have a plethora of options including ginger, strawberry and raspberry – I think they make the perfect Easter present and will stand out amongst the crowd of dull old eggs – I highly recommend.
I must now peel myself away from the sunshine to start on dinner – I am in the glorious state of having just received my grocery order so with full fridge and cupboards the world is my culinary oyster. Options include: Sweet potato frittata, Courgette, feta and mint salad or Thai salmon fishcakes – decisions, decisions! Until next week…