Asparagus Season

May … my favourite month of the year! The arrival of English asparagus heralds the arrival of spring. All around Kent as the beautiful spears pop up their heads, so too do the roadside signs offering this wonderful gem of a vegetable. It is a short season of around eight weeks from mid-April to mid-June when we get to taste the delights of this upright and majestic vegetable. The English have the sweetest asparagus. Look for firm, green spears with tight, crisp tips. The simplest method for cooking is to boil – or steam - for 3 to 6 minutes depending on size and test with a skewer. Serve, drizzled with a little butter.

Asparagus & Gruyere Flan: Serves 4-6
120g cold butter
125g wholewheat plain flour
100g plain white flour
1 medium egg yolk
300g asparagus, trimmed
1 small onion finely chopped
284ml single or double cream
2-3 eggs, beaten
50g gruyère, or nutty cheddar, finely grated

  1. To make the pastry, rub the butter into the flour till the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (or use a food processor).

  2. Stir in the egg yolk and a pinch of salt and, if necessary, a drop of cold water to bring it together into a dough. Form into a thick disc, wrap and chill for 20 minutes.

  3. Preheat the oven to 180C (350F/gas mark 4) and grease a 22cm round tart tin. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface and use to line the tin, pressing it into the sides with a small ball of excess dough. Prick the base with a fork, line with baking paper and baking beans or pulses/rice and bake for 15 minutes until lightly golden. Remove the beans and paper and put back into the oven for five minutes.

  4. Meanwhile, steam the asparagus for 3-4 minutes, until al dente. Chop into short lengths or keep whole. Pour the double cream into a jug and add the eggs. Beat together and stir in the onion and the grated cheese. Season well.

  5. Arrange the asparagus pieces on the bottom of the tart, and then pour in the cream mixture. Bake for about 35-40 minutes until slightly wobbly in the centre yet set, and golden on top, and cool slightly before serving.

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