Knidos Cookery Club is just back from a flying visit to Uzbekistan where we met up with dilettante chef Mr Alan, who invited us round to sample his take on asparagus tips.
He’d tracked down some sizeable spears in Tashkent’s Alay, or Alaysky, bazaar and we added some first cold press Datça olive oil and some sun-dried tomatoes from the peninsula, which, with the addition of some toasted pine nuts and a smattering of grated pecorino cheese, made for quite a feast.
The asparagus tips, which are easy to bake and go well with potatoes, rice or pasta, were served up with a head of roasted cauliflower drizzled with truffle oil and roast new potatoes. Oh, and there was a duck and some fish for the carnivores, along with lashings of wine from Mr Alan’s cellar!
Ingredients (easily serves 6-8)
1 kg asparagus spears
200 g sun-dried tomatoes
50 ml olive oil
100 g pine nuts
50 g pecorino or similar hard cheese
One cauliflower, leaves removed
Mixed dried herbs such as thyme or oregano
Place a layer of sun-dried tomatoes on the bottom of a large baking dish. Arrange the spears over the top of the tomatoes, pour the olive oil on top, sprinkle some mixed herbs over the spears and grate the cheese over everything.
Bake in a hot, pre-heated oven at 200 c /gas mark 6 for twenty minutes or so until the spears are just beginning to char. Sprinkle the cauliflower with truffle oil and olive oil and cook for 30 minutes for so in the hot oven along with the asparagus tips. While the tips are baking, toast the pine nuts over a medium heat.
Serve the asparagus tips with the pine nuts alongside the cauliflower and potatoes and a bottle or two of your favourite wine.
Welcome to Knidos Cookery Club, a new blog that will explore the culinary culture around the point where the Aegean Sea meets the Mediterranean Sea in south-west Turkey. The blog is inspired by the ancient port city of Knidos, the ruins of which can be seen on the tip of the Turkey’s Datça peninsula, and the amazing array of locally-sourced ingredients used in the region’s kitchens.
Every Friday evening the small town of Datça springs into life with farmers from all over the peninsula driving in by pick-up, tractor or even on horseback to sell their produce at the weekly market that stays in town until Saturday evening.
Spring is in the air and vegetables like asparagus and artichokes are making an appearance alongside the staple root vegetables of the winter months.
Stalls are piled high with the last of the season’s citrus fruits – luscious lemons and juicy oranges; alongside enormous leeks, bulbous celeriac roots and the year’s first green almonds.
Some purple-tinged asparagus tips caught my eye, and the idea for the culinary club’s first recipe began to take shape – a risotto based around these flavour-packed spears of goodness.
Asparagus, known in Turkish as kuşkonmaz, or ‘birds don’t land on it’, grows all around the Mediterranean region in springtime, with the first tips ready for harvest shortly after the ground temperature hits 10°C.
To give the risotto a Turkish twist, I’ve used bulgur wheat, a parboiled grain which is a favourite in Turkey, in place of the usual Arborio rice.
Ingredients: (3-4 servings)
Bunch of asparagus spears
One medium onion
A smattering of garlic
One cup (100 g approx) of bulgur wheat (coarse not fine ground)
A generous sprinkle of fresh or dried herbs (oregano, mint, parsley, thyme)
Salt and pepper to taste
One 175 ml glass of white wine
750 ml vegetable stock
Two generous splashes of olive oil
Optional: Add fresh Parmesan or your preferred cheese to the finished risotto.
Arrange the asparagus spears on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil. Oven bake at 180 °C (gas mark 5) for 30 minutes or so until tender.
While the asparagus is cooking, start the risotto. Fry the diced onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent, then add mixed herbs and season with salt and pepper if needed.
Add the bulgur wheat and stir to coat the grains. Pour the glass of wine into the mix and keep stirring until all the liquid has been absorbed.
Introduce a ladleful of stock at a time and keep stirring until it’s all soaked up. Continue until the risotto reaches the creamy consistency you prefer.
Chop the roasted asparagus into 2cm lengths and stir into the risotto.
Take the risotto off the heat and allow to stand for five minutes or so and then mix in cheese and herbs to taste and serve with a green salad.