River Cottage's head chef explains why home-grown asparagus is worth waiting for, in April's issue of The Simple Things. "We've been waiting three years for our asparagus bed at River Cottage to yield anything considered ripe for cutting," says Gillon Meller. "Patience, our gardener insists, is the watchword when growing this delicate little plant."
"The first asparagus of the season always signals the beginning of good things to me. Maybe it's the promise of better weather or perhaps it's the variety it brings to the kitchen for the few weeks it's with us. In late March and April, I make it my culinary mission to find the freshest cut spears I can. That can mean going to quite some lengths, but it's well worth it.
"There's such a big difference between week-old asparagus and that which has been cut within hours of eating. The natural sugars found in this superb short-seasoned vegetable quickly start converting to starch, which means they lose their sweetness as each hour passes. We'll often jump in the car a few hours before service and hare up the old track to our local grower's patch in order to pick up spears cut fresh to order."
In his menu for The Simple Things, Gill has paired asparagus with 'one of the most delicious cuts of meat known to all good men - the humble pork belly'.
For the full recipes, see The Simple Things, April issue:
Slow roast pork with chargrilled asparagus and mint
Lamb's kidneys with mustard & cream
Purple sprouting broccoli with taramasalata, preserved lemon & smoked paprika
Gillon Meller is head chef at River Cottage HQ, which is found on the Devon and Dorset border. He also contributes to cookbooks, teaches at the River Cottage Cookery School and appears regularly on the River Cottage TV programmes.
To book your place on a course at River Cottage HQ visit www.rivercottage.net
Follow Gill on Twitter: @gillmeller