The holy trinity of spring is here! Surreptitiously, timidly, not all at once, bit by bit and initially at a steep price, my all-time favourite foods have turned up. Everyone, you can keep your fillet steaks, eat your oysters and foie gras on your own and scoff all the finest cakes in the world without me batting an eyelid. I’m happy: the season of Jersey Royal potatoes, English asparagus and first strawberries is open!
Sometimes it’s late April, other years early May. The first are usually the potatoes, turning up lovely, tiny and muddy on the market stalls, a little less appealing because washed and bagged, in the supermarkets. Needless to say I prefer the former, lower price notwithstanding. I know scrubbing tiny potatoes takes forever, especially if you want to leave the delectable skin intact and only clean off the grub. I know that the kitchen around the sink looks like a nightmare afterwards and all your vegetable brushes are a write-off. But they taste so much better, also for the work involved!
Then the asparagus arrive, traditionally on St George’s Day. Counterintuitively, the first stems are fat and thick and they only get thinner and spindlier by the end of the season. So if someone is trying to sell you skinny shoots as ‘first of the season’, they are telling porkies.
And then strawberries. The first ones I have in a season are usually Spanish, even though I know that, just like asparagus, the ones local to you are always the winner. But I’d have been waiting at least 8 months to taste them so please forgive me, planet. And if the sun is benevolent and the spring warm, there is not that long to wait for the proper delight of outdoor grown, English berries.
I promise I could sustain on the combination of asparagus and new potatoes served for lunch and dinner, with strawberries for breakfast and as snack. Additional ingredients I’d need would only be lots of butter, some fresh herbs, Parmesan and cream for the strawberries. I could easily last throughout May and June on a diet like that, if The Weather Man didn’t protest.
A bunch of simplest recipes to end my pean to the holy trinity of spring is on order, of course. There is a surprising variety of ways you can prepare asparagus, starting from a raw salad bursting with fresh crunch, through asparagus cooked simply in butter, wrapped in filo pastry, in a warm salad, ending with stir fries, pasta and risottos.
Jersey Royal potatoes are arguably the best just boiled, with lashings of butter and a sprinkling of chopped fresh herbs but you can also serve them crushed, with garlic and olives. If you’re looking for novel ways with new spuds, they can be poached in oil with garlic and lemon, or sauteed with spinach. And they will meet asparagus in a warm salad with pancetta.
Strawberries, finally, surely are just divine on their own, especially when ripe, sun-kissed and local, but make sure you also put them in a fool, in a Victoria sponge and in a strawberry fizz cocktail. Happy spring!