Charred asparagus and quail’s eggs with peas and lime

Asparagus is a curious thing, it comes and goes so quickly. The official season is 23 April until 21 June … but some people are a bit precious about this. Asparagus does not suddenly become tasteless and woody on 22 June so, if it is still around afterwards, why not use it? It also gets cheaper as the season continues. Eggs and asparagus are a classical pairing but, as ever, we like to add a twist. Using quail’s eggs makes the dish seem elegant and enticing – you could even eat it as a fancy starter – but of course you could always use hen’s or duck’s eggs. And you could poach the eggs instead of boiling them, if you fancy that.
If you can get hold of some pea shoots, sprinkle them on top; their taste shouts summer and they look pretty, too. The lime helps to balance the richness of the dish and is a nice change from lemon.
Have an egg timer ready, or set the timer on your phone … times have changed.

For the dressing
finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
½ tsp caster sugar, plus more for the peas
sprinkle of sea salt, plus more for the peas and to serve
100ml sunflower oil (you can use olive oil, but we find it overpowering), plus more for the asparagus
For the rest
2 packs of 12 quail’s eggs (you only need 20, but if some break at least you will not run short)
2 bunches of asparagus
250g frozen peas
First make the dressing to allow the sugar and salt time to dissolve. In a bowl, mix the lime zest and juice thoroughly with the sugar and salt. Whisk in the oil and set aside.
Set a pan of water on to boil – about 1 litre should do it. Put all the eggs on a couple of large spoons, to make sure you can get them into the pan quickly instead of one by one. Have a bowl of cold water ready.
When the water comes to the boil, carefully add the eggs and boil for exactly 2 minutes 45 seconds. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the bowl of cold water to stop the cooking. If the water becomes warm because of the hot eggs, drain and add more cold water. When the eggs are cold, carefully peel them.
Preheat the oven to 120°C/fan 100°C/gas mark ½.
Slice off the bottom 2cm of each asparagus spear, as this can be woody. Heat a large dry frying pan or griddle pan. Making sure the pan is very hot, add the asparagus in a single layer (you may have to do this in batches) and shake it around so it becomes scorched. Be careful, it can catch quickly. When all the spears are charred, put in a shallow baking tray, sprinkle with a little sunflower oil and place in the oven for 5 to 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the peas straight from the freezer into a bowl with a sprinkle of salt and sugar to lift their natural sweetness. Boil a kettle of water and use this to cover the peas generously. Frozen peas are already slightly cooked and this method ensures they still have a fresh flavour. Leave the peas in the water until ready to serve.
To serve, drain the peas and divide between four plates, arranging the asparagus on top. Give the dressing a good stir to emulsify, then spoon it over the vegetables. Add 5 quail’s eggs to each plate … unless you were quite a successful peeler and there were no casualties, in which case add the rest. Now sprinkle with sea salt to season the eggs and asparagus.
You may want some bread alongside to mop up the good bits.