PUBLISHED: 06:06 26 May 2014
We are lucky to have three asparagus growers within a few miles of us, a wonderful fresh ingredient which comes without contentious food miles and which, I would argue, is the ultimate in convenience food.
There are endless discussions on how to cook asparagus; I don’t have an asparagus steamer and either boil the spears in salted water until they are just cooked, or roast them with a little oil in a hot oven. But I do have friends who would not be without their asparagus pans. Served with melted butter, hollandaise or even chilli dipping sauce, you can’t beat Norfolk asparagus.
It is best freshly cut, and with a long list of growers across the county who sell it directly from their farms, you can get hold of just-picked bundles of this amazing vegetable throughout the next few weeks. You can find your nearest grower by looking on the British Asparagus Growers website, www.british-asparagus.co.uk
To celebrate this new season of asparagus I wanted to create a dish, full of as many local ingredients as I could, which would be lighter than the dishes we have enjoyed through the winter months and full of wonderful spring flavours, all of which complement each other. I appreciate risotto rice and lemons are not native to Norfolk but everything else in this recipe is!
Local asparagus and lemon risotto with Norfolk pancetta and Mrs Temple’s Alpine Cheese
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
200g risotto rice
120ml light dry white wine
400-450 ml of light chicken or vegetable stock
2 bunches of asparagus
3-4 tbsp Mrs Temple’s Alpine or Parmesan cheese
12 to 14 slices of pancetta
A handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
The finely grated rind of a lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 slices of stale white bread, breadcrumbed
A dash of rapeseed oil
1 In a heavy-based, deep frying or sauté pan that has a lid, fry all the pancetta until crisp and remove from the pan.
2 Fry the breadcrumbs in a little oil until golden brown, then whizz with eight slices of the crispy pancetta (saving the rest for serving).
3 Just before you start the risotto, prepare the asparagus by cutting the tips 3-4cm long, then finely slice the rest of each spear (disregarding the tough, woody ends). Blanch the tips for five minutes, followed by the finely sliced asparagus for four minutes. Cover and keep warm.
4 Melt half the butter in a large, heavy-based pan over a medium heat, and soften the onion without colouring it. Add the rice, stirring constantly, making sure all the grains are coated with melted butter – if you need to, add a little extra butter at this point. Once the grains are hot and covered in butter, add the white wine and turn up the heat to bring to a fierce boil making sure you burn off the alcohol.
5 Start adding the stock, a ladle at a time, making sure the stock is absorbed before you add another spoonful. When the rice has started to soften and the risotto is quite fluid, remove from the heat, cover with a lid and stand for five minutes.
6 Taste and season, add two tablespoons of finely grated Alpine cheese or Parmesan, the rest of the butter, the lemon rind, parsley and blanched finely-sliced asparagus. Cook for a further few minutes, then serve immediately, with the asparagus tips, the rest of the grated cheese and crispy pancetta, and the golden breadcrumbs sprinkled on top.
The Fruit Pig Company is based in Wisbech and is East Anglia’s only rare traditional breeds butcher that is supported by the Rare Breed Survival Trust and the British Pig Association. It delivers to many of Norfolk’s finest eateries with joints and traditional charcuterie, and its fresh blood black pudding was an award-winner at France’s international black pudding championships. Its pancetta is a hand-worked, rindless, large pork belly cured for four weeks, infused with herbs and spices and fresh garlic, then cold smoked.
Catherine Temple’s Wells Alpine Cheese is made to a recipe learned in the foothills of the French Alps. The Temples have imported Brown Swiss cows from Bavaria and Austria, which have adapted readily to the water meadows of north Norfolk, where the business is based. The nutty-flavoured cheese is matured for six to nine months, to develop the distinctive flavour.