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PUBLISHED: 15:41 10 May 2015 | UPDATED: 15:41 10 May 2015

MAY is asparagus month

MAY is asparagus month


From grower of the year to a cookery lesson with Gennaro Contaldo and hearalding the joys of asparagus with the Kent Farmers' Market Association, May is a glorious month for foodies

Lunch with Gennaro

It’s not every day you get to cook with one of your all-time favourite chefs, let alone persuade him to re-enact that classic Disney moment in The Lady and the Tramp.

The occasion was the opening of Jamie’s Italian Trattoria in Tunbridge Wells High Street and who better to have in the kitchen than Gennaro Contaldo, Jamie Oliver’s mentor, business partner and star of BBC’s Two Greedy Italians?

I was supposed to be having a one-on-one pasta masterclass, but it ended up with me largely in the way, mouth agape as the unstoppable Italian created a fabulous seafood pasta dish with the yummiest almond pesto I have ever had the pleasure of tasting.

All done in a matter of minutes, of course, and in one of the best-organised kitchens I’ve seen, all the while literally dancing in and out of the team of young chefs Gennaro was there to train.

Jamie Oliver’s first restaurant Kent, the trattoria menu is made up of Jamie’s favourite dishes from namesake Jamie’s Italian. From antipasti and comforting bowls of pasta to grills and freshly made pizza, everything on the menu is produce-driven, with a focus on using higher welfare and sustainable ingredients throughout.

Look out for the section of the menu dedicated to Al mattone, the Tuscan method of cooking meat under a searing hot brick to keep it extra juicy and succulent.

There’s also a special kids’ menu and a standalone bar, ideal for a quick chat over a cocktail or bottle of wine and some tasty nibbles. Aperitivo hour between 5-7pm every week night offers complimentary nibbles with your drinks.

Taste of Kent Awards 2015

Our friends at Produced in Kent announced the winners in their Taste of Kent Awards 2015 at a black-tie dinner held at the Kent County Showground.

Stephanie Durling commented: “The awards highlight the very finest produce the county has to offer, but it is not just about celebrating great tasting food once a year. If we all sourced 10 per cent of our weekly groceries from Kent producers, retailers and Farmers’ Markets we can help to generate over £185m for our local economy.”

The winners are pictured above and for a full list of results, visit:

Don’t forget to nominate your favourites for the Kent Life and Kent on Sunday Food & Drink Awards! You have until 31 July to make your nominations:

Top of the crops

Laurence J Betts Ltd Salad has been named Grower of the Year in the UK Grower Awards 2015. The Offham-based company then made it a double by scooping the overall award for Edibles Grower of the Year.

The firm was singled out for its innovation and commitment to bringing new products to market, running up to 500 trials of new crops each year. It was also commended for outstanding customer service.

Laurence J Betts Ltd was founded in 1930 and is now run by Stephen Betts who represents the fourth generation of the Betts family. The farm focuses on the production of wholehead and babyleaf salads for the food service, wholesale and supermarket sectors.

There are three main farm sites where the salads are grown: Church Farm, Offham, (also a centre for the cooling and distribution of salads); Style Place Farm, Hadlow and Cheveney Farm, Yalding, which is also the site of a winter storage reservoir.

Kentish asparagus

Asparagus showcases one of the many benefits of Farmers’ Markets, because it deteriorates very rapidly after harvesting, losing flavour as well as vitamins very quickly. Minimising time from field to plate is critical, and you cannot find it fresher than at local Farmers’ Markets and farm shops.

Equally, Kent’s temperate climate means the crop grows slowly and so the spears develop more intense flavours than imported flaccid imitations. According to long-time Kentish asparagus farmer Michael Bourne from New Park Farm: “Asparagus flown in for the supermarkets from hotter climes really is a pale shadow of our English counterpart.”

Cooking tips

The best way to cook asparagus is steaming it. First wash the stems thoroughly in cold water. Cooking times will vary depending on how thick the stalks are and how fresh it is, but a general guide is around three to five minutes until just tender. Roasting is a less time-critical option. Place trimmed asparagus on a roasting tray; drizzle with Kentish Rape Seed Oil (its nutty flavour goes particularly well), sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook for 10-15 minutes at 200C/Gas 6/400F.

Buying tips

● Freshness is critical, so go to Farmers’ Markets and farm shops where it is usually less than 24 hours since picking

● Avoid asparagus that has dried out, woody-looking bases and make sure the tips aren’t limp or shrivelled.

● Asparagus spears should ‘squeak’ when you rub them together; old rubbery asparagus doesn’t squeak.

● If you are storing asparagus, remove the bottom inch, wrap the fresh-cut stem in a wet paper towel and place in a plastic bag in the refrigerator drawer.

Kent Farmers’ Market Month

June is our second Kent Farmers’ Market Month, with details of special events in the June edition of Kent Life, or on our website

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