Let’s all eat more asparagus. At the Gladwin brothers’ Soho restaurant Sussex (named after the county from which they source so much of their produce), spears are being served in a fritto misto sort of fashion, wrapped in thin filo pastry and fried, then covered in crumbed cheddar. The dish is excellent with a pair of Marmite éclairs, where umami is jam-packed into choux pastry and tempered by cornichons.
To snack on asparagus is to embrace spring. Below the River Thames in Peckham, the Italian restaurant Forza Wine is turning it out raw with hazelnuts and Parmesan. Out of London, Sat Bains in Nottingham has just put a new dish on – what it is, exactly, I cannot tell you. Textures of? It looks like some sort of art installation. See the chef’s Instagram for a look. At The Terrace Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, meanwhile, asparagus comes dressed in a pistachio and parsley hummus and wrapped in chickpea pancakes.
Returning to an Italian juncture, I recently found myself perusing a Francesco Mazzei recipe. Here, asparagus is joined by courgette flowers, cauliflower, sage, wild garlic – another springtime stunner – and more. Each vegetable is lightly fried in crisp batter and partnered with watercress mayonnaise.
The chef put this recipe together for the beer brand Peroni, and it was designed originally to be vegan – hence the use of soy milk – but you can replace that with cow’s stuff if you prefer. Either way, the dish is a brilliant snack for the weekend and perfectly precedes a barbecue or similar.
FRANCESCO MAZZEI’S VEGETABLE FRITTO MISTO
8 green asparagus
8 courgette flowers
150g yellow cauliflower
150g purple cauliflower
16 large leaves of sage
200g purple potato
8 leaves of wild garlic
For the batter:
350g rice flour
400ml tonic water
4 ice cubes (85gr)
1 pinch of salt
For the mayo:
120ml soy milk
250ml vegetable or seeds oil
10ml white vinegar
1 coffee spoon English mustard
10ml lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Half a clove of garlic
Bring a pot of water to boil, blanche the watercress for 30 seconds and cool down immediately in iced water. Drain well and blend with the garlic.
In a food processor add the soy milk and process for about one minute or until the liquid begins to thicken.
Add the vinegar, salt, mustard, and lemon juice to the bowl, and then process for another 30 seconds so that everything is well blended. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Then, with the food processor running, slowly add the oil in tiny drops until about a quarter has been added. Continue to add the oil slowly, increasing to a thin stream instead of drops of oil. Adjust with salt if needed.
Mix the mayo with the watercress and leave in the fridge to set.
In a bowl, mix flour, tonic water and salt. Whisk until no lumps remain, add the ice cubes and leave in the fridge for later.
Thinly slice the purple potatoes and leave under running water for about half an hour, then drain and leave to dry out on a kitchen towel.
Cut the cauliflower into florets. Cut off the tough part at the bottom of the asparagus and remove the little leaves along the stalk. Blanche both in salted
boiling water for about 40 seconds, then cool down in iced water. Drain and dry on a kitchen towel.
Preheat the oil at 180°C.
Start frying the potatoes until crisp and transfer on to kitchen paper. Season with salt. Fry the sage leaves and leave on the side.
Slice the aubergines in discs and halve them. Deep fry the wild garlic leaves, add the rest of the vegetables into the batter and deep fry until nice and crispy. Season with salt and serve next to the watercress mayo.