In an attempt to eat locally-produced fruit and vegetables, knowing what is in season is really important. That doesn’t mean you can’t buy something occasionally that has been grown in a glasshouse or that was shipped in from far away – it just means you should try to keep it to a minimum.
A quick look around the market gives you a good indication: just look out for what’s ubiquitous and what’s cheap.
Spanish strawberries are little by little being replaced by French ones. Cherries should be here soon, but if you ask the farmers they’ll tell you that they are at least two weeks late due to the lack of warmth and sunshine in the early Spring. We’ll have to wait for them.
Three weeks ago, a bunch of green asparagus sold for over 11€ per kilo. Today, they`re down to 5-7€ per kilo. That’s a pretty sure sign they’re in season. Asparagus season is short, so I tend to go a bit mad on them when they’re around.
White or green? I love both.
How to prepare asparagus: (just a few suggestions amongst many)
- I tend not to peel green asparagus (unless they’re very thick), so start by washing them and trimming off the woody bit at the end.
- You can eat them raw if they’re very fresh, for example by shaving off thin strips with a potato peeler and including them in a green salad with some roasted sunflower seeds.
- You can blanch them in salted boiling water for 3-5 minutes before turning them in a frying pan with a little butter until their cooked through. Salt, pepper, voilà. A pinch of baking soda in the water will keep them nice and green.
- Wrap green asparagus in pancetta or Serrano ham and cook on the grill or plancha.
- For white or fatter green asparagus, peel them from tip to base with a potato peeler, tie them together with butcher’s string or elastic bands and stand them up in boiling water so that the tips stick out. That way the stems cook in the water and the more delicate tips are steamed. Cooking time can vary from 10 to 20 minutes. A knife should go through without resistance when they’re done. Serve with a poached eggs, vinaigrette, hollandaise sauce or a little burnt butter.
- For a twist, bake your peeled asparagus in the oven in tinfoil parcels garnished with olive oil or butter, lemon slices or smoked salt, little bits of bacon and cheese shavings or garlic and herb butter. About 15 minutes in a hot oven (220°C).
- Green asparagus also work well with risotto. If I have time, I’ll put up a recipe for this in the next few days.
You can go on the website of Michelin restaurants for a recipe for green asparagus by two-star chef Akrame Benallal if you fancy something, well… fancy. (To give you an idea, he used to work with Catalan Über-chef Ferran Adrià.)
One of my most unusual culinary experiences ever was at the beautiful restaurant and hotel La Mare aux Oiseaux in Saint-Joachim, just North of Saint-Nazaire near Nantes, where one-star chef Eric Guérin blew me away with a green asparagus dessert! That was a meal to remember.
So, to recall the immortal words of Thomas Tusser who, in his 1557 opus A Hundred Good Points of Husbandry, wrote:
“Sweet April showers
Do spring May… asparagus?”
For more information about what’s in season (in French) month to month, you can go to the government’s nutrition website, but it’s a bit austere and you will have more fun visiting to the colourful recipe website Ôdelices which, on top of a pretty illustrated calendar, gives you some ideas what to do with seasonal produce.
If you’re the forgetful type, go to www.fruits-legumes.org and they will even send you a monthly e-mail with an updated list of what’s fresh from the fields! Having said that, there’s probably an app for that.