For the asparagus:
- 100g pancetta or finely-diced streaky bacon
- 2 large banana shallots, minced
- 60g butter
- A splash of dry white wine
- 200ml double cream
- 200ml vegetable stock
- 500g fresh British asparagus
- 1 Gem lettuce, finely shredded
- A little finely-chopped parsley
- Maldon salt and freshly-ground black pepper
For the lamb:
- 1 small shoulder of local lamb, boned
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 1 carrot, roughly chopped
- 1 leek, roughly chopped
- 2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
- A bunch of fresh thyme
To trim the asparagus, I find the best way to avoid any woody parts is to gently tap the blade of a sharp knife up the stalk from the bottom, and where the knife passes through the stalk easily is where you chop. Store the woody stalk pieces in the freezer for making soups.
Now, the lamb; set the oven to 150ºC / Gas 2. Put the joint in a deep casserole pan, and add the vegetables, the thyme and enough water to just cover the meat.
Pop the lid on and cook the lamb for 2 ½ – 3 hours until very tender.
Carefully remove from the liquid and set aside to cool and firm up a little. Season well with salt and pepper. Turn the oven up to 200ºC / Gas 6 and roast the lamb shoulder until nicely crisp in places.
Carve into appealing chunks or slices and keep warm, while you prepare the peas.
Chop the trimmed asparagus stalks into small, manageable pieces.
In a deep saucepan, sizzle the bacon until crisp and golden, then add the butter and lower the heat. Add and gently sweat the shallot for a few minutes until soft. Add a splash of wine and bubble until it’s reduced to almost nothing, then add the stock and cream and bring to the boil.
Lower the heat and add the asparagus and lettuce. Stir well and cook gently until the asparagus is just tender, then add the parsley.
Spoon the asparagus into bowls and top with shreds of lamb and serve immediately.
Stephen Jackson on this week's recipe
Earlier this week, I was driving home from seeing my best friend in Berkshire, and, as usually happens, I was overcome with motorway fatigue by the time I’d got to Sheffield.
So I pulled off the M1 and decided to liven things up by taking a more circuitous route back to the house. The weather was magnificent; crisp, clear and blustery, and I was thoroughly enjoying myself, the music up high, whizzing along the A628 over the tops, then back up over Holme Moss.
It’s always a spectacular view, but this was extraordinarily good. I felt like I could have picked out York Minster if I’d parked up, so gorgeously clear was the morning. And all around, either nuzzled close to their mothers or larking about in that delightful way they have, were the new Spring lambs.
As the grass starts growing in earnest, these little guys feast on rich ewe’s milk and munch away at the soft, tasty grass with gusto. They are exquisite little bundles of joy – Springtime incarnate.
Soon, regretfully, they will be old enough to be considered ready for the table. Such is the circle of life. If we want to enjoy this wonderful, tasty Yorkshire lamb, we must accept that it comes from those endearing little guys gambolling about in the fields all across the region.
And so it is to lamb we turn this week, pairing it with a dish I came up with last year for the first time, combining two separate dishes into one rather appealing whole, and it’s bang in season.
I’m not much of a fan of peas, normally; years of school dinners saw to that – I always find the whiff of boiling peas a little icky, preferring them fresh and raw, in salads for example.
But one cooked pea dish I am a huge fan of, and that’s the classic Petits Pois A La Française. I say classic, but it’s not really a French staple. They do cook peas with lettuce and cream, but usually it’s blended into a soup.
Here, the peas are cooked with onions, shredded lettuce, a touch of bacon and a little cream to make a fresh-tasting accompaniment to all manner of things from fish and seafood (it’s great with lobster) to roast ham, the Sunday beef joint, or a good chicken.
In a twist, we’re going to swap out the peas for an ingredient that is just about to begin its short yet glorious season, fresh British asparagus. It’s one of the food calendar’s most fleeting pleasures, only around for a month or so, but when it’s asparagus season, Tracy and I eat little else as a green vegetable.
It’s incredible, wonderful stuff, so fragrant and tasty, and incredibly versatile; tossed into salads with sharp vinaigrettes, or tucked into a chicken and mushroom pie, arranged beneath a simple grilled fillet of firm white fish, or served as naturally as can be, perhaps with a soft poached egg and a hint of sharp Hollandaise sauce. You can roast it, grill it, steam it or simmer it. And it’s a great British product – we often buy ours from farms in Wharfedale, but you’ll find asparagus beds almost everywhere across the UK.
Best to support local farmers and buy British while you can, and ignore the stems from Chile that fill the shelves for the rest of the year. Just enjoy it while it’s here, then wait for the magical time when those little spears to poke through the soil again next Spring.
So, here’s a nice, lightly creamed asparagus dish, which I think is pretty good as it is, but for the carnivorous, I’ve added some lovely sweet new season’s lamb, the perfect foil. A symphony of seasonal treats, encouragingly local and utterly delicious.