Make a point of trying some new season asparagus spears

Ham risotto with cod and langoustines
Ham risotto with cod and langoustines

From Morecambe Bay shrimps and Chorley cakes to hot pots and butter pies, Lancashire is blessed with some of the best food in the country.

To celebrate the best from the county’s natural larder, the Evening Post is teaming up with Booths for a monthly feature looking at what is in season and how to get the most out of it. This month we get our teeth into asparagus spears fit for the Titanic.

Sometimes the simplest things are the best and few things match the deliciousness of steamed new season asparagus dripping with melted butter.

And for arguably the best asparagus in world, you needn’t look any further than our neighbours in Merseyside.

Thanks to the fine, sandy soil of the local dunes, the coastal town of Formby has been producing some of the best asparagus in the world for more than a century.

So sought after were the green spears that the town’s farms regularly supplied the large ocean liners on their transatlantic crossings – most famously the Titanic.

But over the years, its brief season, short supply and cost of harvesting meant many smaller growers have been unable to continue.

Now, as part of its Forgotten Foods campaign, aimed at getting traditional foods back into mass circulation, supermarket Booths has got Formby asparagus back on the shelves by working with local producers.

Booths fresh produce buyer Chris Treble explains: “We have developed long, strong relationships with the best local suppliers making us well placed to work closely with farmers and producers to revive interest in Forgotten Foods.

“British food rivals any in the world, and we believe the next generation of shoppers should have the chance to discover this, too.”

This month, we’ve got three great recipes to help you get the best out of this local delicacy.

Asparagus and Parma ham risotto with cod and langoustines

INGREDIENTS

Bunch of Formby asparagus, ends removed, par boiled and chopped into small pieces

Four langoustine tails (keep the shells for the stock)

2 cod loin fillets

4 Parma ham slices

1 onion, finely chopped

2 celery stalks, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

175g risotto rice

Small glass of white wine

600ml stock, made from the langoustine shells (or chicken stock)

Knob of butter

50g Parmesan cheese, grated

Oliver oil

Pepper, to taste

METHOD

Fry the onion, celery and garlic in a little olive oil over a low heat for a few minutes, until tender. Add the rice and fry for a minute or two. Turn up the heat and add the wine, simmering until absorbed.

Add the stock a ladleful at a time, stirring frequently, until absorbed.

Meanwhile, fry the ham until crispy and set aside. In the same pan, fry the cod in a little oil, skin side down, until crispy. Flip over and add a knob of butter, basting the skin until golden brown. Add the langoustine tails and cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, being careful not to let the butter burn. For the last 30 seconds add the par boiled asparagus.

Once the rice is cooked – after about 20 minutes – stir in the butter, cheese, asparagus and crispy ham broken into bite sized pieces.

Top the rice with the fish and langoustines and enjoy with a glass of white wine.

Simple Asparagus

gremolata

INGREDIENTS

Bunch of asparagus, woody ends removed

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Handful of parsley, finely chopped

Zest and juice of a lemon

Olive oil

METHOD

For the gremolata, finely chop the garlic, parsley and lemon zest on a chopping board until well combined. Transfer to a bowl and add lemon juice, salt and pepper. When ready to serve, steam or boil the asparagus for about four minutes. Serve warm with the gremolata drizzled on top as a simple and delicious side dish to grilled meat or fish.

Stuffed Formby

asparagus and poached egg

INGREDIENTS

Bunch of Formby asparagus, woody ends removed

Parma or serrano ham

Two sun-dried tomatoes

Handful of green olives

Handful of parsley

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Eggs

METHOD

Make a quick tapenade

by mixing tomatoes,

olives, parsley, salt and

pepper in a food processor with a little olive oil to make a paste.

Meanwhile, par boil the asparagus spears for 2-3 minutes and set aside.

When ready to eat,

lay a dollop of tapenade

on a slice of ham and wrap around the asparagus spears.

Fry in a little olive oil,

allowing the ham to get crispy.

Poach a couple of eggs in boiling water and serve on top of the asparagus.

Andrew Molyneux - Huntapac Produce

Booths source their crop of Formby Asparagus from Andrew Molyneux of Huntapac Produce.

The areas where Huntapac grow Formby asparagus are evocatively called slacks, or tracts of land that used to be sand dunes — but now have a high humus content perfect for growing superior asparagus.

The supermarket’s fresh produce buyer Chris Treble explains what makes Formby asparagus so good.

“It’s a question of what the French call terroir,” he explains. “ The soil type and microclimate in Formby make perfect growing conditions for this

notoriously tricky crop. The proximity to the coast with equable winters, mild early springs and plenty rain, provides a unique growing climate. The soil is both organic and sandy at the same time, and has a high water table, which means that the crop is never held back in growth.”