Click on below titles for the individual recipes and here for the step-by-step time plan to cook it
Chocolate, Coffee and Cream Mousse
Chinn Chinn English sparkling wine or Lidl’s Comte de Brismand Champagne Brut (with the amuse bouche and ceviche)
Condesa de Leganza Tempranillo 2011 and Kosi Bay Savignon Blanc (with the main)
Bodegas Barbadillo Jerez Xéres Sherry
This is a menu that serves six. If you have any trouble doing the cookery maths to make it for more or fewer people then just get in touch and we’ll puzzle it through together. It takes two and a half hours to put together up to the starters, and then a little extra work while you are hosting to put out the other courses in approximately an hour.
Download the step-by-step menu plan and ingredients list.
The menu explained
Spring is an exciting time, full of fresh flavours that we feel all-too starved of during winter. This is the season where the possibility of being snowed in is as real as all of a sudden having very bad sunburn, but we’re on track to enjoy all those food nuggets winging their way from those hardworking farmers, growers and retailers, albeit with some compromise with ingredients.
Amongst other things, I am making the most of this spectacular purple asparagus, from Chris Chinn at Wye Valley (the company supplies M&S with pretty much all of its asparagus in English season) in Herefordshire, pink forced rhubarb and under-appreciated and still-in-season turkey meat, as well as specialities we can’t grow here, like pomegranates and citrus fruits and the preserved offerings, rose water and truffle oil.
Purple asparagus is simply a different variety to the green stuff, but it happens to have 20% more sugar content than the green shoots. Considering the fact the brilliant deep purple colour fades away through cooking (and even dry baking, to a certain extent), I’ve worked out that these spears are really best served raw and as fresh as possible. I was lucky enough to have the first of the season last year, straight from Chris and I hope it will be even more available in shops and markets this year.
In its raw state, purple asparagus has a distinct fresh pea pod flavour that seems to remind everyone of spring, no matter how seasonally accurate that is. So when Westlands Wow, a grower from my hometown Worcester, sent me a selection of its spring wares and pea flowers were part of the treasure trove, it seemed a natural partner for my purple asparagus adventure.
My idea was to do a vegetarian sashimi with the asparagus (now bear with me), and the result was thin slivers of asparagus in lemon juice and zest, with a scatter of sea salt flowers, ground pink peppercorns (my favourite contradictory pepper), chopped parsley (about the only sturdy herb that’s properly in season in spring) and a splash of one of the best things in the world – truffle oil.
Serve this course with a crisp sparkling wine. In fact, the Chinn family have a vineyard on their asparagus abundant land, which produces a fine sparkle with the same grapes used as Champagne. It’s heavy on the Chardonnay, which makes it a great creamy accompaniment for asparagus. Now that all worked out rather well, didn’t it? Order some fromhere. If you can’t find a good English sparkling, a Chardonnay that’s oaky, and really not as unfashionable as it used to be, will do the trick.
Zesty Purple Asparagus: A fresh hit of spring in an amuse bouche
Okay, I’ve run away with myself a bit here – it’s all the purple asparagus excitement (we’ve all been there). But, talking of alcohol, this Seasonal Dinner Party starts with a much needed (after cooking for your friends for two hours) Iced Tea Whiskey Cocktail. The menu is rather influenced by Irish whiskies. Not least because I come from Irish stock (whiskey goes with everything, surely?), but mostly due to the fact I went to a lovely Irish Whiskey tasting with the International Wine & Spirit Competition‘s Ewan Lacy last year, which introduced me to The Dubliner Irish Whiskey Liqueur, as well as a couple of gems I can’t afford (the Vintage Reserve Single Malt Teeling Whiskey was my fave, at a breathtaking £130 a pop).
The picture notes from my whiskey tasting class with @sally_simp
Also, when foraging Twitter for inspirational bits and bobs (and we’re back to whiskey, again…), I came across Harry Brompton’s London Iced Tea – a small British brand of alcoholic tea. Okay, so the tea’s obviously not from London, it’s from Kenya, of course, and no one to do with it is actually called Harry. But the drink is produced by a father and son team (and the son’s best friend), who just wanted to put out a tasty iced tea. And that they did. It’s like an adult Dr Pepper and I could drink it all day.
Not content with the 4% ABV already in the iced tea, I added Dubliner to it, along with a touch of bitters to bring down the sweetness. If you serve the apéritif in cute little sherry glasses, a la Poriot, you only need one bottle of the tea, and it’s the perfect palate opener before the tart asparagus dish.
Now, on to the ceviche. I’m a big believer in this South American dish and think it’s perfect for spring with its zesty lime juice and fresh-tasting raw fish and coriander. To anglicise the ceviche somewhat (sorry), replaced the traditional red onion with thinly sliced forced rhubarb (get it from Yorkshire if you can; the High Priestess of Rhubarb has it available from as early November now, but the stuff I’ve used is actually from the clever Chinns, as well). I’ve paired this with some garlic chives – like a subtle wild garlic in taste) and, of course, chillies. Spring is sent to liven up the tastebuds in my book.
Last year, I was introduced to a long forgotten about culinary technique, velveting, by TV chef Phil Vickery at a British Turkey Association event. And reminded of the fact that a turkey is not just for Christmas, it’s still in season in spring. A high-protein meat, it makes sense on a lighter spring menu, so it’s on mine. And with a little help from Phil, turkey can take the limelight for a little longer in the year. Velveting basically means coating the raw meat in whisked egg white, starch and oil, then frying or poaching it to seal in the moisture. You then tenderise with a citrus juice at the end of the cooking. See the Velveted Turkey, truffled cauli, purple Sprouting Broccoli and Morels with Jersey Royal Crisps and chilli jam recipe for more details. I keep the turkey company with just about everything I love about spring. Order morel mushrooms here (they are worth it).
To finish, there are two desserts. I know, but they are both small and very light on the tongue, if not strictly the calories. But we’re all going to be doing so much more exercise now the sun’s out, right? Anyhow, more courses means a longer dinner party and more chat, and that is what it is all about.
I’ve been putting rose water in anything just lately – stews, pasta sauces, gravy, but mostly jelly. I love Nielsen Massey Rose Water, because it’s so intense – usually you have to use the whole bottle of rose water just to get a hint of the flower. And after learning how clean tasting the Fair for Life Madécasse Madagascar Chocolate is just recently, you’ve got a bit of a coffee alternative in the Chocolate, Coffee and Cream Mousse to end (just a tablespoon or so each), with its Espresso Bean chocolate, at 44% cocoa.
And that is that. Enjoy putting on your own seasonal dinner party and let me know how it goes! Read a blog on the dinner party I held with this menu on here.