You know it’s peak asparagus season when it’s all you can see as you thumb your way through Instagram.
We’ve reached the end of what farmers call the hungry gap, when, in early spring, there is little fresh produce available. That period is well and truly over, with greens lining up on the shelves of our greengrocers: watercress, cucumber, leeks, spring greens, and my favourite, asparagus. They’re often regarded as a delicacy, but these stubborn little spears are a hardy lot and will generally stick around in the salad drawer for a good week or so.
Spring is definitely here (how can it be mid-May already?) and as the days get longer and temperatures rise, I want to cook easy meals with fresh flavours.
Asparagus season comes but once a year, so I’m making the most of these green shoots while I can. Instead of boiling, I prefer to pan fry them in a little olive oil with salt and pepper and a generous squeeze of lemon juice.
Asparagus works well in most dishes, from pasta to pastry, and because of its robust flavour and texture, it will often take the starring role alongside other ingredients.
This simple risotto takes under half an hour to cook and uses buckwheat (which contains 13.25g of protein per 100g – that’s more than eggs) instead of rice. The wild garlic adds a sweetly mellow flavour, but it’ll be gone in the next few weeks, so two cloves of garlic will also do the trick.
Buckwheat risotto with asparagus, spinach and wild garlic
150g buckwheat, rinsed and drained
8-10 asparagus spears, ends removed and roughly chopped
500ml vegetable stock
Half a leek, diced (or use half an onion, peeled and diced)
3-4 wild garlic leaves, roughly chopped (keep the edible flowers for a garnish)
3-4 large handfuls spinach
The juice of 1 lemon
A pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
A few leaves of fresh mint, roughly chopped
Heat the oil in a large pan, then add the leek and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the wild garlic and the chilli flakes and cook on a medium heat for a further 2 minutes. In a separate pan, fry the asparagus in a little oil; do this over a medium heat for around 10 minutes.
Add the buckwheat to the pan and mix well, coating each grain in oil – add a little extra if necessary. Add a ladleful of the hot stock to the pearl barley and stir well. Bring to a simmer as the liquid is absorbed by the rice. Continue adding more stock, a ladleful at a time, letting the buckwheat absorb it gradually; do this for about 15 minutes, until soft.
Add the cooked asparagus to the pan with the spinach, lemon juice and salt and pepper and stir until the spinach has wilted. Turn off the heat and stir through the chopped mint. Squeeze over some more lemon juice and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, if you like, and decorate with the wild garlic flowers. Add a smattering of sunflower seeds for extra bite.