Growing asparagus was an unimaginable luxury. Something to dream of eating in white-clad restaurants with high ceilings, good-natured matre d’s and silver sauce bowls with melted butter. Despite living a short drive from the Vale of Evesham, I didn’t taste a single spear until I worked in a grand restaurant, where on our way to the dining room we picked up a stranger from the silver salvers. To this day it still feels like a luxury.
I had little idea at the time of what it takes to get a lot in stores. Harvesting by hand on bent knees; the care pickers must take to protect the crown, each spear cut just below the surface of the soil with their trusty asparagus knife and its V-shaped blade. I also knew nothing of the care taken to get the spears with their vulnerabilities intact on the market. I bring them home from the shops on the top of my shopping bag, the tender bundle nestled between the brown paper bags of vegetables like a baby in a manger.
At this point in the season, when the price has dropped, I use my spears in a salad with high-fat culatello or San Daniele ribbons, tuck them into a brown rice pilaf with mint and peas, or add them to a fava bean pastry pie. , peas and crème frache. Asparagus works well on the baking sheet, although I like it best when you have briefly steamed it first. That way it will be juicier and you will get smoky notes from the grill.
Asparagus and ricotta fritters
While these green speckled fritters are cooking, keep an eye on their progress and try to catch them while their insides are still soft and slightly creamy. Serves 4
asparagus 2 bunches
spring onions 2
Eggs 2, large
pecorino 30 g, finely grated
peanut or vegetable oil a bit for frying
Place a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl, add the ricotta and let it drain in the fridge for an hour or more. This will help perfect the consistency of the batter, which should not be too wet. Trim the asparagus, removing the tough ends from the stems. Cut the spears into thin, small rounds and place them in a bowl. Finely chop the spring onions. Finely grate the zest of the lemon. Remove the leaves from the dill, chop finely and add to the asparagus with the lemon zest.
Break the eggs into a small bowl, beat lightly with a fork, then stir in the asparagus and dill with a little salt and ground black pepper, the grated pecorino, flour and the sifted ricotta. Stir lightly but thoroughly.
Heat a little oil in a shallow, non-stick pan – all you need is a thin film. Scoop spoonfuls of the batter into the pan, about 2 heaped tablespoons each, flatten the top slightly with the back of a spoon and cook for 3 or 4 minutes. When the underside is golden brown, slide a palette knife under each blade and flip them over and cook the other side. Do it in one quick, confident flip.
Grilled chicken with fennel seed and seasoned butter
To follow the fritters this week we ate chicken, marinated and cooked on the griddle. You could ask the butcher to bone the chicken legs for you. If you want to do it yourself, run your knife through the skin and flesh, keeping the blade as close to the bones as possible. Tease the bones of the chicken meat with your fingers. If there are a few holes when you’re done, don’t worry. You won’t notice it once the meat is on the grill. Serves 4
For the butter:
hot pepper 1 teaspoon
ground coriander 1 teaspoon
dried oregano 2 teaspoons
garlic 2 cloves
lemon grater of 1
For the spice rub:
black peppercorns 1 teaspoon
fennel seed 2 teaspoons
dried thyme 4 teaspoons
dried rose petals 2 teaspoons
chicken legs 4, on the bone
lemon or orange wedges
Soften the butter in a bowl with a wooden spoon. Puree the bell pepper, coriander and oregano into the butter together with a few turns of the pepper mill.
Peel and crush the garlic into a paste with a pinch of salt flakes, then stir into the butter. Finely grate and whisk in the lemon zest. If using the butter right away, leave it in a cool place, if you’re making it for later, wrap tightly in wax paper and store in the fridge.
Place a chicken leg skin side down on a cutting board. Cut into the meat with a very sharp knife and remove the bone. You are left with a flat rectangle of meat. Place skin side down on a tray or plate and continue with the rest. Brush them on both sides with a little oil.
Make the spice rub: crush the peppercorns with a mortar, stir in the fennel seeds and thyme and pound briefly with the pestle. Stir in the rose petals. Sprinkle over the chicken, flip on both sides and refrigerate until done.
Heat a grill pan or frying pan. Place the chicken skin side down in the pan and cook until golden brown, about 8 minutes, then cook the other side. When chicken is cooked – juices should be clear, not pink – season generously with salt. Add most of the butter to the griddle pan and let it fizz and foam – there will be a little smoke – turn the chicken over so it is well coated with the butter.
Serve the chicken on warm plates, drizzled with the browned butter and a slice of lemon or orange.
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