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Queen of seasons

by
10 May 2013

by Simon Walsh

iStock

MAY is a magnificent month for produce - perhaps because it is Mary's. During Lent, I travelled through the Vale of Evesham, famous for asparagus. Those spears are succulent on their own, but this Asparagus mousse is interesting.

350g (1lb) bundle of asparagus
3 shallots
1 garlic clove
500ml (1 pt) water
1 chicken stock cube
30g (1oz) butter
1 sachet powdered gelatine
white pepper

Snap the woody ends off the spears, and rinse. Cut into finger-size pieces, and place in the pan; reserve a few of the spear tips. Peel and roughly chop the shallots and garlic, and place in the pan with the stock cube and water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 minutes. Liquidise in a processor. Whisk in the butter along with a good shake of pepper and taste. Sprinkle the gelatine over and whisk in.

Have a suitable dish to hand (capacity 1 litre should do) and pop the reserved spears into the bottom. Just cover with a thin layer of the liquid. After five minutes, chill in the fridge until set, then add the rest of the liquid and return to the fridge to set fully (around three hours). Invert on to a plate.

Bringing a Strawberry tart to the table ups the game, and adds a dash of theatre, too. This sweet pastry - pâte sucrée - is the perfect biscuity base with crème pâtissière.

Pastry:

120g (4 oz) unsalted butter, cubed
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
60g (2 oz) icing sugar
170g (6 oz) plain flour, plus pinch  of salt

Mix the butter, eggs, and icing sugar together in a food processor, then blend in the flour and work together. Take the mixture and dust with flour, wrap in clingfilm, then chill for two hours. Once ready, roll out and line a large tart tin; plug any "holes" and chill for a further half-hour. Preheat the oven to 190˚C/Gas 5. Bake the pastry blind for 20 minutes (using greaseproof and ceramic beans, or balls of foil), then remove everything and bake for another 15 minutes or so. Keep a close watch; you want golden biscuit, not dark brown. Leave to cool.

Crème pâtissière:

290ml (½ pt) milk
2 egg yolks
55g (2 oz) caster sugar
20g (¾ oz) each plain flour and  cornflour
5 drops vanilla essence

In a bowl, mix the eggs with the sugar, flour, and cornflour. Heat the milk until just below boiling, then whisk into the egg mixture. Return to the pan and heat, stirring until thick. Pour back into the bowl, and add the vanilla. Scrape into the pastry case. Wash and hull about two punnets of strawberries, and arrange them in the custard, pointing up. Melt a tablespoon or two of redcurrant jelly to brush over the top, and serve with pouring cream.

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