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Vegetables in season

10 August 2012

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ASPARAGUS is still in the market, and it is still one of summer's luxuries. You can't beat steamed asparagus with a home-made sauce hollandaise; but recently I tried it "stoved". You put it in an oven dish with a tightly fitting lid, with a tablespoon of water, in the oven with whatever else might be in there, until it is tender. A scattering of sea salt is all it needs as a side dish.

But as an hors de'oeuvre, a simpler and less cholesterol-laden alternative is to steam the asparagus as usual, and cook some hard-boiled eggs (one per person). Drain the asparagus, but keep it warm. Peel and chop the hard-boiled eggs finely. Arrange the asparagus on a dish, and drizzle it with olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper. Add the eggs as a garnish, and sprinkle with a touch more of the seasoning.

If you have lots of new and very fresh summer vegetables to play with - peas, haricot beans, broad beans, new carrots, asparagus, small cour­gettes, celery, fennel, spring onions, and so forth - they are fabulous enough to enjoy just as they are, steamed, with a pinch of sea salt, and butter if you dare.

Pod the peas and broad beans, and peel the carrots. Quarter the cour­gettes lengthways, trim the aspara­gus, slice the fennel into wedges, and trim the spring onions into manage­able lengths. Cut outer celery stalks into sticks to match, or use the inner heart cut up neatly.

If you do not have a steamer, cook them gently in some stock: 

 285ml (½ pt) water
 285ml (½ pt) white wine
 juice of two lemons
 a slug of olive oil
 any asparagus trimmings
 5 peppercorns
 a bay leaf
 salt

Bring the stock to the boil, and then turn down to a simmer. Add the vegetables, and cook them gently at the simmering point with the lid firmly on, until they are al dente. Drain them (discarding any aspara­gus trimmings and the bay leaf), and serve them at once with either an egg mayonnaise, scrambled eggs, or grilled fish fillets.

Use the stock as the basis of a chilled vegetable soup for the next day. Fennel makes really good soup sparked with lemon. If you use the stock above, you will probably need to add to it - more water, more wine, or more stock.

 2 fennel bulbs
 2 decent-sized courgettes
 1 onion
 a few slices of lemon

Wash and slice the vegetables, and put all the ingredients into a soup pot with enough stock to cover them. Let them simmer until the fennel is really tender. If you have started with a plain stock, add a dash of olive oil at the end of the cooking time, and adjust the seasoning. Liquidise this to a purée, and adjust the consistency and seasoning to taste. It is good eaten hot or cold, garnished with cream and tiny ribbons of smoked salmon or anchovy.

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