Hooray for Kickstarter!…. and some more asparagus

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Hooray! I’m delighted to say that the crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter for my new book has reached its minimum target. It’s been a huge pleasure to see so many friends, family and customers joining the campaign and backing the book – 266 backers and counting. So Bill’s Kitchen will now definitely be published. And if the total goes above £20,000 (currently just over £15,000) then I’ll increase the print run.

As a grand finale to the Kickstarter campaign I’m appearing at the Hay Festival in conversation with Jake Kemp on the evening of the last day of the campaign – talking both about the book and about food, social media, crowd-funding and community.

I’ve just sent off the final couple of re-tested recipes for Bill’s Kitchen to Marianne (the editor) this morning and then I’ll get back first printed proofs in about a week. We’ll then be to-ing and fro-ing until the end of June when the final pdf is due to go the printers. The full print run should be in my hands by the beginning of October.

To get you drooling here’s a taster of one of my favourite platefuls from the book:

Asparagus, ham, new potatoes, lemon hollandaise

This is one of my desert island dishes. Spring on a plate. We first ate it at The Plough Inn at Ford in the Cotswolds, an institution that celebrates the local asparagus season in a delightfully whole-hearted way.

Any good quality ham is fine, but smoked ham from the Tudge family and their pigs (see page….for contact details) takes this dish to another level.

People get scared about making hollandaise and whilst it’s not massively difficult there is knack to it (described below). Once you’ve done it successfully it’s a great treat to have up your sleeve. There are methods using blenders, but for me they don’t produce the lightness combined with richness that you want in hollandaise.

For preparing asparagus I always use what I think of as the Delia method: Snap the stems as near to the base as they will go and discard the bit that snaps off. No further trimming or peeling is required. If they don’t snap but bend instead, then your asparagus is not fresh and freshness is everything with asparagus. Which is why, in my view, eating asparagus out of season and from far away countries is a waste of time and air miles.

Serves 4

600g new potatoes e.g. Charlottes
2 tbs olive oil
salt and pepper

500g asparagus – about 7 medium spears per person
1 tbs olive oil
salt and pepper

150 g unsalted butter, melted and fairly hot
2 egg yolks
1 dst cold water
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper

250g best quality smoked ham, sliced

Put some plates to warm.

Boil the potatoes for about 25 minutes until just tender, drain them, halve them, toss in olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put somewhere to keep warm.

Have your ingredients all prepared for the hollandaise before cooking the asparagus. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. When it’s boiling add the prepared asparagus and bring back to the boil on a high heat. Depending on the thickness of the asparagus it can take from 30 seconds to about 3 minutes to be just tender. Keep testing by extracting a spear with some tongs and pressing the base between your fingers. When it’s ready there should be a little give but not absolute softness. Drain the asparagus, toss in olive oil, season with salt and pepper and leave to keep warm.

Make the hollandaise. Put the egg yolks in a pan (not aluminium) and add a good dessertspoonful of cold water. Whisk constantly and vigorously, whipping the pan on and off a low heat.  The eggs go through different stages.  First, the mixture begins to lighten and become frothy. Shortly after that, the eggs will begin to lose a bit of air and become creamy and pale. The yolks are ready to receive the butter when they are thick enough to retain the distinct marks of the whisk. When they reach that stage, remove from the heat and put on a stable surface (perhaps with a damp cloth underneath to add extra stability).

Continue whisking the egg yolks and begin to pour in the hot melted butter, slowly at first and then quicker as the sauce gradually becomes thick and oozy looking. I continue to add the milky residue from the bottom of the pan to loosen the sauce a little (purists would leave it out). Then add the lemon juice and zest, half at a time in case the full amount is too much for your taste. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

This is best served at once. (You can keep the sauce warm for a bit but any attempt to re-warm it risks the sauce splitting.)

Divide the ham, potatoes and asparagus between the warmed plates and then put a generous ladle of hollandaise over each portion of asparagus. If there’s any sauce left put it on the table for further distribution.