Two Spring Favorites Arrive

Imported asparagus are available all year round, but there’s nothing to beat the flavor and texture of those locally grown in its short spring season: in Ireland, traditionally beginning on April 23 and ending on Midsummer Day. Although its delicate flavor and seasonality make it highly desirable in the kitchen, asparagus is much more than just a pretty vegetable: it’s long been recognized as a good source of dietary fiber and is high in antioxidants. Rhubarb, too, which arrives a bit earlier in Ireland (late February to March depending on winter temperatures), vies for attention as it makes its way onto Irish menus in crisps, cakes, pies, tarts, jams, and chutneys. In the northeast, where I live, the colorful stalks are just about ready to pick. Go grab some now! 

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Serves 4

          Paradiso, Denis Cotter’s restaurant in Cork City, serves some of the most imaginative vegetarian and vegan dishes in Ireland. They’re created most often by adding layers of flavor and texture to one ingredient, like this recipe featuring asparagus. At Paradiso, asparagus is topped with Hegarty’s cheddar, a sumptuous Cork-made cheese (you can substitute Kerrygold’s Mature or Reserve Cheddar), nutty crumb, and tangy capers. Make the crumb (Cotter calls it the “crunchy stuff” because it delivers a “flavor hit” to vegetarian dishes) and fry the capers in advance. 

For the hazelnut crumb

2 ounces skinned hazelnuts

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1. Preheat the oven to 225°F. Place the hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Let cool; coarsely chop.

2. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Stir in the breadcrumbs. Toast, stirring frequently, until golden. When crumbs are crisp, stir in the nuts and thyme. Cook for about 1 minute. Remove from heat; let cool. (Can be stored in a dry airtight container for up to 2 weeks).

For the fried capers

4 ounces capers

Canola oil for frying

1. Drain the capers; pat dry. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of oil. Add the capers; fry until they stop sizzling. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Dry and cool. (Can be stored in a dry airtight container for 2 to 3 days). 

For the sauce

1/3 cup white wine

1/4 cup vegetable stock

2/3 cup cream

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 ounces Cheddar, finely grated


Ground black pepper

1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the wine and stock to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer. Cook to 4 to 6 minutes, or until reduced to about 1/4 cup. Add the cream; return to boil. 

2. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer, until the sauce thickens slightly. Whisk in the mustard and Cheddar until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

For the asparagus

12 to 16 asparagus spears, ends snapped 

Extra virgin olive oil


1. Trim the asparagus by holding each about halfway down the stalk; bend until the tender stalk separates from the tougher base. Heat a heavy-based skillet or griddle pan over high heat. Add the asparagus. Drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with salt. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, turning often, until asparagus are seared and nearly tender.

2. To serve, arrange the asparagus on individual plates or a serving platter. Reheat the mustard cream; pour over. Sprinkle on the hazelnut crumb and capers.


Serves 4 to 6

          For a refreshing starter or light lunch, asparagus shines in this creamy soup.

1 1/2 pounds asparagus, trimmed (see above)

4 ounces unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups chopped onion

2 teaspoons kosher salt

6 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 cups vegetable stock or broth

3 cups milk, warmed

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon dried dill

1/3 cup heavy cream

Croutons, for garnish (optional)

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in asparagus tips, onion, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until onions are soft but not browned; sprinkle with flour. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring once or twice, for 6 to 8 minutes.

2. Slowly stir in stock or broth; cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until soup thickens. Let cool for about 5 minutes; stir in milk.

3. With an immersion blender, purée soup until smooth. (Alternately, working in batches, transfer soup to a blender or food processor and process until smooth; return to pan). Stir in pepper, dill, and cream; gently reheat. Sprinkle with croutons, if desired.


Makes 6 

The recipe for this crisp, which I discovered at an Avoca Café in County Wicklow last spring, lets the rhubarb stand on its own with only a little sweetening from elderflower cordial, a lovely contemporary touch. Both the crumble and filling are made separately and can be assembled and reheated at serving time. Serve the crumbles in individual ramekins topped with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

For the crumble

2 cups flour 

8 ounces butter, cut into small pieces

3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 cup Irish oatmeal 
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts

1 1/4 cups flaked almonds

1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl combine the flour, butter, brown sugar, oatmeal, hazelnuts, and almonds. With your fingertips, rub the mixture together to form small clusters. Spread out on the prepared pan.

3. Bake, stirring every 5 minutes, for 35 to 40 minutes, or until browned and crisp. Let cool.
For the rhubarb
1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces

3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons elderflower cordial
Zest of 1/2 lemon

Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, for serving

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the rhubarb, sugar, vanilla, elderflower cordial, and lemon zest. Cook, stirring once or twice, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the rhubarb is nearly tender (do not overcook). 

2. To serve, spoon the fruit into six 4-ounce ramekins; top with the crumble (freeze leftover crumble in resealable plastic bags). Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired. (To make ahead, assemble fruit and crumble. Reheat in a 325ºF oven for 10 to 15 minutes). 


Serves 10 to 12

          This very moist, rich cake with a crispy crumble topping is delicious for breakfast, teatime, or dessert. Serve the cake plain or with whipped cream or crème fraiche.

For the topping

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

½ cup (packed) light brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

4 large eggs, beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 9-inch springform pan with no-stick baking spray with flour.

2. In a small bowl, combine the butter, sugars, and cinnamon; whisk in eggs. Set aside.

For the cake

8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature 

1 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs, beaten

3/4 cup self-rising flour

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup milk

1 cup ground almonds

1 cup chopped rhubarb

1 cup raspberries

Whipped cream or crème fraiche, for serving

1. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the flour, salt, and milk. With a wooden spoon, stir until soft dough forms. 

2. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Sprinkle almonds on top; sprinkle rhubarb and raspberries over nuts. Pour topping over fruit.

3. Bake the cake for 70 to 75 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven; let cool on wire rack for 15 to 20 minutes. Release sides of pan. 

4. To serve, cut the cake into slices; serve with whipped cream or crème fraîche, if desired.

Margaret Johnson’s “Recipes” page now includes “Ireland Hopping: Adventures in Food, Drink, and Travel.” For further details on her work, including how to order her newest cookbook Delicious Ireland, visit