Here’s one from the new book – yes, a shameless plug, but also a lovely way to combine asparagus and potato.
Asparagus has been on my mind a lot lately. It always is at this time of year but this time my thoughts are a little more pained than usual. My body too. I spent an afternoon late last week out on Gortnanain Farm helping to plant 900 new asparagus crowns. That’s right, I said 900!! It sounded like a rewardingly worthwhile way to spend a sunny afternoon. In reality, it was four hours of crawling around in the earth, constantly changing position to shift the aching pain from knee to ankle to lower back and around again. Each crown had to be placed 51cm apart in the dug drills, right way up and with its long roots fanned out. Then Ultan went around and chucked a handful of manure pellets on each crown, after which each one had to be pressed down and covered with soil. Towards the end of this physically and mentally shattering experience, I began to hallucinate that I was in an old chaingang movie. Struggling with the urge to get up and run away, I hit on the undignified but almost pain-free method of scooting along on my arse. Dignity has no place in a ploughed field.
The short term reward for this afternoon’s labour was a couple of bottles of beer, a fine feed of pasta and an evening playing cards. I was genuinely surprised at how quickly my sense of aggrievement was replaced by one of a useful job well done.
The longer term reward will be a small crop of asparagus next year and a massive one the year after that and hopefully into the future. As far as I can tell, there are no commercial crops of asparagus in Ireland, which seems a shame given the suitability of the climate, but is maybe not surprising in light of how labour-intensive it is. Weeding is the worst of it – the rows of plants will be hand-weeded a few times a year, involving a repeat of the four hour crawl in the earth.
I met a man just the other day who declared his intention to grow four acres of asparagus. That would be, what…about 5000 plants? Now, that’s a sight I hope to see one day.
60g butter, softened
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, finely chopped
2 teaspoons lemon juice
200g sour cream
150g plain flour
300g potatoes, cooked and mashed
large pinch of cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons fresh chives, finely chopped
butter for frying, melted
24 asparagus spears
160g brie, thinly sliced
80g puy lentils
200mls vegetable stock or water
2 sprigs thyme, leaves only
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 medium beetroot, cooked & peeled (approx 200g)
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Stir the tarragon and lemon juice into the butter and keep in a warm place so the butter remains soft but not quite melted.
Whisk the eggs, milk and sour cream together, then whisk in the flour, and then the mashed potato, cayenne pepper, chives and a large pinch of salt. Leave the batter in the fridge for 15-30 minutes.
Heat a 20cm crepe pan over medium high heat and brush it with melted butter. Pour in enough batter to make a thinnish crepe, and cook it for 2-3 minutes. Flip the pancake over and cook the other side for a minute. Repeat with the rest of the batter.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cut the asparagus about 20cm long and peel the tougher ends. Drop the spears into the water and boil for 3-4 minutes, until tender but still crisp. Drain and cool in cold water, then pat dry with kitchen paper.
Place a crepe on a work surface. Put a line of brie across the centre and three spears of asparagus on top. Fold over the crepe to make a tight parcel. Repeat with the other crepes to get eight in total. Place these on a parchment lined oven tray, so that the brie is above the asparagus. Brush with melted butter and store in the fridge until needed.
Preheat the oven to 350f.
Put the lentils in a pot with the stock, thyme and garlic. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, until the lentils are just tender. Drain off any remaining stock and return the lentils to the pan. Dice the beetroot and add it to the pan with the maple syrup and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.
When the lentils are almost done, put the crepes in the oven for 5-7 minutes, until the brie is beginning to melt.
Place two pancakes close together on each plate and spoon some of the tarragon butter over them. Add some of the salsa on top, and serve.