The first European cherries hit the market last week but prices were exorbitant. The only peaches worth eating of late have been from Mexico, and again the prices have been high – partly because of air-freight costs. New-crop lychees are delicious again, although the berry size is small.
Turkish morels are still plentiful and prices more reasonable (although they are never cheap).
Baby artichokes and globe artichokes are both very good again now. The baby artichokes are available either loose or in bunches, with stems still intact. Flat beans are now plentiful and pods are virtually stringless.
English asparagus is available, but expensive at around £5 a bunch. Prices should drop in the next couple of weeks.
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New-season English lamb is a bit like a soap-opera saga at the moment. Will it happen? Won’t it happen? There is new lamb available, but it is still expensive and still not yet at its best. Be patient and wait for some warm weather – then it will be fantastic. Meanwhile, old-season lamb is past its best, and can be difficult and expensive to source.
Pork prices have settled and are easily of the best value. Loin cuts are especially competitive – as well, of course, as the braising cuts.
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Inconsistent weather at the end of last week had a knock-on effect on supplies this week, and prices on most species remain high. With very little expected from the Faroes and Iceland, cod should go up in price, as will haddock, whiting, halibut, pollack, monkfish and farmed sea bass.Wytch sole, scallops, sardines, red mullet and mackerel should hold their prices, as will plaice, which is now starting to fatten up (although the Icelandic fish are still full of roe). Scottish mussels are also starting to spawn, so there may be a shortage.
Overseas, the tuna supply has been a bit up and down, though there are decent supplies of kingfish, snapper and barramundi.
. . . and how to use them
Roast asparagus with York ham
20 spears asparagus
4 slices air-dried York ham
200g dry mashed potato
50g chiffonade blanched Savoy cabbage
25g smoked bacon lardons
2tbs flat parsley, chopped
1tsp fresh thyme leaves
20g plain flour
4 quail eggs
200ml good chicken stock
50ml double cream
2tbs lovage, chopped
Salt and pepper
First trim, blanch and refresh the asparagus (the fresher, the better – at the Star Inn, the asparagus comes from Sand Hutton near York, about 20 miles away, and is cut in the morning, then delivered before lunch by the grower himself). Wrap five spears of the asparagus in one slice of the air-dried ham.
Repeat for the remaining asparagus.
To make the bubble-and-squeak, mix the mashed potato, cabbage, lardons, flat parsley and thyme, then season. Mix into four little patties and dust with the flour, so they don’t stick.
To make the velouté, reduce the chicken stock by half, then add the cream and simmer until it reaches a sauce consistency. Keep warm.
Place the asparagus bundles on a roasting tray and brush with melted butter. Roast in the oven for about five minutes.
Meanwhile, pan-fry the bubble-and-squeak cakes in a little oil and butter, until golden brown on each side. Very gently fry the quail eggs (our quail eggs are laid at a farm only 100 yards away from the kitchen door) and season.
To assemble the dish, place the asparagus on a hot plate with the bubble-and-squeak cake next to it. Place the quail egg on top of the cake, finish the sauce with the chopped lovage (a great-tasting herb, but very strong, so don’t use too much), spoon around the plate and garnish with a sprig of fresh lovage.
James Mackenzie, sous chef, the Star Inn, Harome, North Yorkshire
Published by: The Caterer