I found out at the farmers market on Sunday that what I was buying was the last of this season’s asparagus. But the season has only just begun I thought and immediately realised we are approaching the end of June. The Solstice has come and gone and it feels like time is passing more quickly than I can register it. The British asparagus season is fleeting. Six to eight weeks of abundance and then it’s gone. Traditionally it starts on St. George’s Day and ends on the Solstice – weather permitting of course. This year, it started early.
My favourite way to eat it is to toss it lightly in oil and throw it on a griddle pan. This way of cooking it, to me, brings out its nutty flavour. Paired with a soft boiled egg and a thick piece of toasted sourdough and it’s my perfect weekend breakfast.
For the last asparagus of the season, I got a little creative and decided to lay it on a fancy pillow of simple ingredients but made a little more effort. I had bought some little beetroots which were still attached to their tops and everything seemed to come together.
This recipe didn’t take long to pull together. The beetroot top pesto takes as long as it takes to toast a handful of sunflower seeds and throw everything into a food processor. I always include the red stems because I don’t want to waste them, but they turn the end product the kind of greeny sludge brown I used to end up with when I went too far with my experiments at mixing paints at school. It doesn’t detract from the taste, though.
1 bunch asparagus
Bunch of small beetroots with tops attached
2 tbsps Parmesan cheese
¼ cup sunflower seeds
rock salt to season
1 garlic clove, minced
Juice of ¼ lemon, plus a little grated zest
1 cup gram flour
1 cup water
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Wash and peel the beetroots and slice them thinly using a mandolin or with a sharp knife. Place a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking tray and lay the beetroot slices with a little space between each. They will shrink quite a lot. Cook for ten minutes on one side and then turn over. Cook for a further five minutes on the other side.
For the beetroot top pesto, roughly chop the beetroot tops. Place in a food processor along with the parmesan, garlic, sunflower seeds and lemon. Pulse a couple of times and then drizzle in the olive oil until you have a creamy consistency.
Coat the asparagus spears in a little oil and place on a griddle pan, preheated on a medium heat. Depending on the thickness of the asparagus spears, cook for about five minutes or until they have softened slightly and there is a good charring.
To make the Socca batter, mix the water and gram flour together and leave to rest for at least an hour. It should have a similar consistency to pancake batter, so add some water if it is too thick. Add a pinch of salt to season. Heat a drop of oil in a pan and add enough of the batter to coat the base of the pan. Cook for about 3 – 5 minutes on each side.
On the Socca base, spread a spoonful of the pesto and top with asparagus spears and beetroot slices. Sprinkle with some chopped parsley or dill.