Serves: 6 as a starter or side dish
We join chef and cookery teacher Gemma Wade as she sources ingredients for a Provençal Easter lunch. Gemma was invited by Jeany and Stephen Cronk to Cotignac in Provence, where the ex-pat British couple make Mirabeau wines. The challenge was to create an Easter feast using ingredients from the town’s Tuesday market to go alongside the wines that Mirabeau produce there. Having prepared Provençal stuffed courgette flowers as an amuse-bouche, Gemma chose to serve cod with a tapenade crust and rosé-braised fennel for mains. Here, she finds inspiration for a delicious side dish… or, if you prefer, you can serve it as a starter.
The market in Cotignac, home of Mirabeau, was bursting with spears of white asparagus. Each bunch with ombre colours ranging from lilac to Mirabeau pink. It is rare to find white asparagus in the UK or US but our locally grown green asparagus is equally delicious and at its best and more affordably plentiful at this time of year.
Roasting asparagus is a safer bet than steaming or boiling if you’re feeding a crowd. A couple of minutes too long in a pan of water and your bundle of asparagus can become soggy whereas in the oven it takes a little longer and is therefore more forgiving if timings shift.
Asparagus loves lemon, salt and butter. I made a cheese crisp and crumbled it over the asparagus for a salty crunch and because of the big flavours elsewhere I didn’t add much else. Any leftovers can be chopped into as salad the next day or blended into a soup.
I’ve never been a huge fan of raw radishes but roasting them has been a revelation. Their flavour is mellowed by roasting and they are a wonderful side dish, simply cooked with salt and a little oil. We had some leftover from the shoot and found them perfect to be nibbled with drinks too.
- 2 bundles (around 800g or 28 oz) asparagus
- 400g (14 oz) radishes – try and get the long breakfast radishes if you can
- 2 tablespoons olive or rapeseed oil
- 60g (2 oz) Gruyere or Comte cheese or Parmesan
- 1 lemon
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan) 400°F (350°F convection).
2Wash the asparagus and radish, both can get quite sandy so I always soak them in a large bowl of water, giving them a bit of a shake to dislodge any stubborn grit.
3Prep the asparagus by bending each stem and allowing it to snap where it naturally breaks. Discard the tough ends or freeze them to throw into a soup. Lay the asparagus stems on a baking tray and sprinkle a tablespoon of oil over, using your hands to rub the oil into the spears before scattering them with a teaspoon of sea salt flakes or half a teaspoon of fine grain sea salt. Set aside.
4Prep the radish by cutting the green leaves off, leaving around an inch of green and a leaf or two. Any discarded leaves can be eaten raw as a peppery addition to a salad. Put the radishes in a small oven proof dish, scatter a teaspoon of oil and a generous pinch of salt over them, shake and pop in the oven for 20-30 minutes until they are tender and slightly shriveled.
5Make the cheese crisp by finely grating the cheese onto a tray, ideally lined with a silicone sheet to make cleaning up easier. Pop in the oven for 8-10 minutes until golden brown and melted. Pull out of the oven to cool and it will crisp up. User a fish slice to lift the cooled cheese off the tray and then break into a bowl and set aside. This can be done a day ahead if need be.
6When the cheese crisp is cooked and the radish is nearly ready, put the tray of asparagus into the oven and cook for 12-15 minutes. To test if it is cooked, give one of the thicker stems a squeeze. If it gives, it is ready.
7Finish the dish by laying the stems on a platter, lay the radishes alongside or on top. Scatter them with lemon zest, a little more salt, lemon juice and the cheese crumbs.