INGREDIENT OF THE MONTH - Asparagus
Asparagus has been eaten and used medicinally for centuries, and even appeared on an ancient Greek Frieze dating back to 3000bc. It was the Romans who first cultivated the vegetable, eating it fresh when in season then freezing during the winter. Asparagus became popular in Europe in the 16th century, and King Louis XIV even commissioned specially built greenhouses so he could enjoy his favourite vegetable all year round.
Asparagus is an excellent source of vitamins and fibre, with one serving providing a quarter of our recommended daily intake of vitamin C. Itís also high in folic acid, which is particularly beneficial to expectant mothers. It contains potassium, which helps to maintain healthy blood pressure. Asparagus is known as a natural remedy to aid digestion, too.
Buying & storing
Young asparagus shoots are the most commonly eaten, as the shoots can become woody when left to Ďfern outí. This means the growing season is quite short, generally lasting from late April to mid June. Buying Asparagus from the UK means it has spent less time travelling and will retain its incredible flavour. Choose firm, green spears and avoid those that look wrinkly or slimy. Store Asparagus in the veg drawer of the fridge, keeping it in the dark.
You donít need to mess around too much with the delicate flavour of asparagus, simply steam for a couple of minutes until tender and served with a classic hollandaise sauce or try it fried in a little butter and served on top of toasted sourdough with a poached egg and lots of fresh mint. Just be sure not to overcook it, or the incredible flavour will be lost Ė and you might have to wait until next year to enjoy it again!
WHAT'S GOOD AT THE MOMENT?
Spring has finally sprung, and its most tempting delicacies will only be around for an instant - enjoy them while you can.
From May onwards, spring lamb is at its finest. Unlike the spring lamb you find on the market before May, these lucky little lambs have had the benefit of having been weaned on their motherís milk, as well as plenty of time frolicking in (and eating) fresh green grass. The exercise and grass means that the meat is particularly tender and flavoursome. The meat has a more subtle flavour than normal lamb, so like asparagus, it is a good idea not to overwhelm it with other ingredients. Grill or roast and serve with other spring ingredients such as asparagus and Jersey royal potatoes.
Though it is sadly often seen as just a pretty garnish (and only then when the curly parsley has run out), watercress is actually a delicious ingredient itself Ė it's a member of the mustard family, so it gives a good peppery punch. This super-healthy leaf is packed with antioxidants, too. Itís lovely in a chilled soup with plenty of lemon juice or paired with orange segments and smoked mackerel for an easy spring salad. Or try it wilted with plenty of garlic for an alternative to spinach.