Tag Archives: garden

Asparagus Days are Here

Our glasshouse is bursting at the seams and the only picture I have of it is photo of myself and a friend enjoying a breakout glass of wine – Semi al fresco, the door was open

There are crowds of seedlings waiting to move to a more spacious location to continue growing. We have just re-covered the tunnel that was destroyed in one of the winter storms so the tomatoes can relocate and the other tunnel is full of infant spinach, chard, herbs and baby beans.

The potatoes are peeping up and the fruit trees are in blossom. It’s such an exciting time of the year in a garden yet the pickings are fairly slim as last years green crops shoot for the sky and go to seed and the new ones aren’t quite ready to be picked.

One vegetable that’s coming into season is Irish asparagus. Sadly we don’t have any in our garden anymore – I dug it up in frustration. After several years of nursing the plants and trying to keep them weed free then only getting a couple of spears at a time I gave up.  I should have researched growing asparagus before wasting so much time as I have discovered that not only do the seedlings need three years on a weed free bed, it also hates slugs and needs warmth and sunshine – a minimum of eight hours sunshine a day! 

I take my hat off to the Irish growers who supply us with this seasonal treat as it takes so much time and effort and ideally a tunnel or covered growing area that is designated to this use.

The Irish asparagus season is short, there are six weeks in May/June when these plants do their thing, growing up to 18cms in a day and funnily enough it’s the male plants that shoot up the spears, the female plants provide the seeds – kind of reverse to humans.

I always enjoy the asparagus when it’s in season here in Ireland. It’s such a seasonal treat and one of the most nutritionally balanced vegetables packed with vitamins and antioxidants.

It’s best cooked simply. My favourite way is grilling on a cast iron pan but I have also discovered roasting in a very hot oven can produce a similar result. The heat seals in the flavours and the asparagus still has a little bite.

We have plenty of fresh eggs and a big bunch of Dunworely asparagus at hand so this month’s recipe is a plate of roasted asparagus over Puy lentils with herb hollandaise. The lentils are simply cooked then seasoned with salt and dressed with the best olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar to brighten them up.

Sublime!! It’s very easy to prepare and well worth seeking out the local asparagus for, infinitely superior to asparagus that has been flown half way round the world and sold for next to nothing. Help save the planet, buy local!

Roasted Asparagus with Puy Lentils and Herb Hollandaise

Serves 3-4

1 bunch asparagus –  4 spears per person

200g ripe cherry tomatoes

200g Puy lentils

200g butter

2 egg yolks

Juice of half a juicy lemon

A handful of fresh soft herbs – chives, basil and/or chervil

Salt and cracked black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

Balsamic vinegar

Pre-heat the oven 220c

Put the lentils into a saucepan and cover with at least twice as much water. Bring to the boil, turn to simmer then cook for 20 minutes. Check them by tasting a couple and if they are still a little hard cook for 1-2  minutes longer but be careful as they should be just done. Drain the lentils, rinse with hot water then dress with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar and a little salt. Put the lid back on to keep them warm and put aside.

Whilst the lentils are cooking prepare the asparagus. Wash the spears then trim the woody end. You could snap them but I usually lightly run a sharp knife over the stem working from the stalk up and the knife cuts like butter as soon as you pass the woody bit. Line a baking tray that’s big enough to accommodate the asparagus in one layer with parchment paper. Dry the spears then put them in the tray and drizzle over olive oil. Sprinkle over a little salt and cracked pepper then roll them about so they are all lightly dressed,.

Wash the tomatoes and dry then put them into a baking tray with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.

Put the tomatoes and asparagus into the oven and set the timer for 7 minutes, toss both then cook for a further 5 minutes.

The Hollandaise is made using a held blender which is a clever trick – no whisking over a bain-marie, just instant Hollandaise.

Put the egg yolks into the beaker or a jug with the lemon juice.

Gently melt the butter and heat until hot.

Chop the herbs finely

Put the blender into the beaker and buzz the yolks and lemon juice together. Add the hot butter in a slow steady stream. When it has emulsified season with salt and pepper and stir in the chopped herbs. If it is too thick, thin with a little warm water. If you are not ready to serve you can keep the sauce warm by putting the jug into a bowl of hot water.

To assemble the dinner put a big spoonful of lentils onto each plate, lay the asparagus on top and pour a little hollandaise across. Put the roasted tomatoes around the sides.


Giant Cauliflowers Make Giant Cakes

Finally our cauliflowers have arrived, there’s a colony of them and some are seriously big.

We have waited so long. I was convinced we would have caulis for Xmas but nope, nothing happened . We just had these huge plants on long stems that seemed to be in some kind of animated suspension and now, all at once they are emerging. It’s far from the first cauliflowers that we have grown but usually they arrive rather inconveniently in August or are very welcome in October and November. Last years lockdown meant we got our seeds where we could and I must have picked up this winter variety. I’ve now checked it out and discovered that winter cauliflowers take 40-50 weeks to mature which is quite some time to nurture a vegetable but they are so welcome. A joy to the eye and they’re going to be exciting to eat, or perhaps I should say a challenge.

We regularly make cauliflower fritters and cauliflower pakoras which are both delicious but last night I broke out and and made a cauliflower Sfomato with the enormous cauliflower that I had picked. Sformato looks like a cake which has a touch of a soufflé to it. It’s also enormous, enough to feed 6- 8 for dinner or 4 for dinner and 4 for lunch!

I have feeling we’re going to have cauliflowers coming out of our ears!

Cauliflower Sformato

1 large cauliflower

olive oil to roast the cauliflower

2 red onions, peeled and chopped

90g butter

90g flour – I used rice flour as it’s gluten free

800mls milk

6 eggs

75g grated parmesan or mature cheddar, grated

1tbs Dijon mustard

1/2tsp smoked paprika

Pre heat the oven 190c

Line the base and sides of a 24-26cm loose bottomed cake tin

Break the cauliflower into even sized florets and toss with little olive oil and salt. Spread out on a large baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. leave aside to cool a little then chop small.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan (mine was little small) then stir in the flour. Cook gently for a few minutes then begin to add the milk. Do this in stages, whisking the milk and roux(flour mix) until it comes together in one mass before adding a little more. You will end up with a fairly thick sauce. Season with salt and cracked black pepper. Stir the chopped cauliflower, smoked paprika, mustard and grated cheese.

Check the seasoning then pour into the prepared tin.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 40 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 40 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.

Leave to rest for a few minutes before removing the tin and serving.

It’s not going to win a beauty contest but very tasty!