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Asparagus
By Lea Harris

Asparagus! A magical word that gets my juices going. This is the King of Vegetables (we all know why it's not queen); it's seductive, sensuous, provocative. It doesn't warrant heavy-handed treatment: melted butter over the tips, a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of rock or sea salt, a grinding of pepper if you must or a good dollop of Hollandaise and I'm a very happy bunny!

The season is just too short and although you can get imported 'gus, it just isn't a patch on the British variety, especially asparagus from bonny Scotland. Buy it as soon after picking as you possibly can, as the sugars start to turn to starch it isn't as sweet (it's still magnificent though). I never buy the foreign intruder; it lacks that essential flavour that our own home-grown spears have.

To get the best from this vegetable, either steam it (don't immerse the tips) or griddle it. I prefer the latter and the recipe I've chosen is simplicity itself. Serve it as a starter with the poached or boiled egg or as a side dish. The ham seasons the asparagus really well so back off on the salt. But whatever you do, don't throw away the trimmings; great for making stock for a soup or sauce. I use it as a base for a spring vegetable risotto, with baby broad beans and frozen petit pois.

 

For each person

6 stems of asparagus, no thicker than your middle finger

2 slices of air-dried ham

Oil of choice

1 soft boiled or poached egg

 

Trim the first inch from the base of each spear. Gently wash the stems to remove any grit and dry on kitchen roll.

Cut each slice of ham into three long strips and wrap around the asparagus starting about ½ inch below the tip. Lightly drizzle with oil.

Heat a griddle pan until it is hot and pop in the spears. Turn down the heat as the ham colours. Cook for about 4-5 mins and test to see if it's cooked by piercing the stem with the point of a sharp knife, if it has a little resistance then it's done.

What else is in my basket?

Lamb, duck. sardines, sea trout. New potatoes, watercress. Elderflowers, gooseberries.

 

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