28 April 2012

Asparagus in a Creamy Fond


This recipe is dedicated to my Dad. I cooked it for him today, he praised it in words and by cleaning out the plate with bread, barely leaving the glazing intact. 

Asparagus for me is one of the quintessentially seasonal foods, at a time when there are not many new things ready picking. I dreamt this one up a couple of years ago because making a real Hollandaise is not that failsafe/foolproof and homemade mayonnaise is something relatively easy to make and yet I often somehow manage to mess it up. (By the way. in one of restaurants near my home specialising in fresh asparagus, they have a homemade mayonnaise with a bit of asparagus fond in it, simply delicious) 
I came up with this very aspargussy recipe as an answer to the above. It’s not terribly quick and easy but, according to my Dad, well worth the effort.

What you need (for 2 people)

  • 10 white and 10 green asparagus (all the same kind works too), the former peeled, the latter just peeled at the lower end
  • the peelings and the woody bits
  • 30 g butter
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 1-2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp apple balsamico vinegar (or a not too acerbic white wine vinegar)
  • vegetable stock cube or powder
  • water to cover the asparagus
  • 100 ml fresh (or, if you are feeling naughty, double) cream
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, pressed, or a handful of finely chopped wild garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste (possibly a dash of tabasco)

What you do

  1. In a frying pan, melt the butter and sauté the onion, the peels of the asparagus and the finely diced bits you have cut off.
  2. After about 5 minutes of steady stirring, add the sugar, vinegar and the stock cube/powder; stir.
  3. Put in the asparagus and add enough water to cover them just about. This is the asparagus fond, which will form the basis of the sauce.
  4. Allow to simmer until the asparagus have reached the desired softness (Caroline likes them quite soft, I prefer them al dente).
  5. Take them out and put them aside, keeping them warm.
  6. Liquidise what is left in the frying pan with the garlic (if using wild garlic, add that at the end) and strain through a sieve. Press the puréed asparagus material against the mesh so as to make sure that the finest particles end up with the liquid; discard the rest (it is very stringy and woody).
  7. Stirring,  reduce the liquid until it barely covers the bottom of the pan.
  8. Stir in the cream and reduce to the consistency of a not too thick custard (adding wild garlic at this stage).
  9. Add the juices that will have gathered in the dish with the asparagus, and serve them on warm plates with the sauce decoratively poured over them. Some fresh bread to catch the sauce might be appreciated…

Remarks

Asparagus are usually sold with a kind of cover over the bottom end. I suspect this is to make it possible to sell inferior or not very fresh stuff: the best way of checking whether asparagus are fresh (and likely to be tender) is to squeeze the bottom end. If it remains entirely dry, they may need to be trimmed fairly far up. (but then that stuff makes for the rich flavour of the fond!)
As pointed out, white asparagus need peeling (all the way to the very tender top); green asparagus benefit from generous peeling at the lower end up to the point where a knife would cut them with little to no pressure. This is actually also a way to test for woodiness and to help deciding what needs to be used for the fond.
Lastly, if you are not keen on adding cream – which would make this a vegan dish if there is no dairy stuff in the veggie stock and you’ve substituted the butter with a relatively neutral vegetable oil, e.g. corn or rape seed oil – simply reduce the fond a bit further instead of adding the cream.

20 April 2012

Wild Garlic (allium ursinum) Pesto


This dish works well with any kind of fresh pasta.
Whereas commercially available pesto is often a very smooth paste (and many people like that) I prefer a rougher texture where you can bite on a piece of pine kernel, on a crumb of cheese or feel part of an actual leaf on your tongue. 
Therefore, when I make pesto Genovese (with basil and pine kernels), pesto Trapanese (with tomatoes, basil and almonds) or this one, I chop the ingredients rather than putting them in a blender. The rougher texture adds more flavour and bite to the pasta, I feel.

What you need

  • 150-200 g washed wild garlic leaves, chopped finely (see Remarks)
  • 60 g pecorino romano, roughly grated
  • 100 g pine kernels (partly substituted by walnuts for a slightly different flavour), chopped
  • 100 ml extra vergine olive oil

 

What you do

  1. Mix all the dry ingredients.
  2. While stirring, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream.

 

 

 

Remarks

About the plant

This is probably one of the most seasonal of seasonal dishes as wild garlic (allium ursinum) aka ramson, buckrams, bear leek/garlic or wood garlic) is only visible in early spring (March till early May) and the flavour seems less pronounced, once the white blossoms appear. The connection with bears in the Latin and many vernacular names is that they used to dig the plants up for food and a kind of self-medication after hibernation because wild garlic is rich in vitamins A, B and C and not only has the same flavour as garlic but also the same medicinal properties (for more details check http://health-from-nature.net/Ramsons.html or http://www.twocrows.co.uk/kaleidescopes/text-pages/wild_garlic-text.html).
The leaves look a bit similar to the poisonous Lily of the Valley, so a little caution is necessary, but if in doubt, rubbing the leaf will dispel any uncertainty: the smell of garlic is unmistakable.  In addition, young Lily of the Valley leaves seem to grow out of each other, unfolding around a central shoot, wild garlic grows in individual leaves, each on a thin stem.

About the dish

It brings out the flavour better if you chop the wild garlic, rather than using a food processor.
Much of the flavour disappears if the leaves are boiled. If using wild garlic, as with garlic in general, but also with basil, add this right at the end of the cooking.
Left-overs stored in an airtight container (jam jar with a lid) can be kept for quite a long time in the fridge.

 

Freezing wild garlic

If you want to have some to freeze for a later date, mix the chopped garlic leaves with proportionally half the amount of olive oil mentioned in the recipe and leave out the cheese and the pine kernels. Put the paste into ice-cube trays and freeze in a plastic bag (unless you like garlic flavoured ice-cream…). Once frozen, store in a container and add a cube or two to dishes or sauces just before you serve them.

13 April 2012

Cheese Souflée Omlet


I am still cooking for my Dad. He really liked this one. It is, again, a dish for two people, with twice the amounts it will make a meal for four, ideally served with a big mixed spring salad. 

 






What you need

  • 2 egg yolks whisked with
  • 1 tblsp dry sherry
  • 1 tblsp sweet soy sauce
  • 1 heaped tblsp Italian herbs
  • 1 tblsp mustard or1 tsp mustard powder
  • grated nutmeg, paprika, salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 egg whites whisked with a pinch of salt
  • 1.5 dl cream whipped
  • 1 small tomme ripe soft cheese (Reblochon, Brie, Camambert, Vacherin Mont d’Or, Gorgonzola dolce), cut into slices of about 5 mm thickness.
  • Butter for frying the omelette

What you do

  1. Separate the eggs and whisk the egg yolks vigorously with all the ingredients (sherry, soy sauce, herbs and spices. The mixture should be quite frothy.
  2. Whisk the egg whites with the pinch of salt until it forms peaks.
  3. Whip it until the whisk leaves a trace in the cream.
  4. Fold the cream and the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture, making sure that the mixture remains fluffy and light.
  5. Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan. Very gently pour the egg/cream mixture into the melted butter and fry over medium heat.
  6. Put in the slices of cheese ensuring that they are evenly spaced.
  7. Reduce the heat a little to prevent burning and fry until the top of the soufflé omlet starts solidifying. Season with more paprika, pepper and nutmeg if you feel it is necessary.
  8. To ensure that the top is done too, put under the grill for 1, maximum 2 minutes (too long and the soufflé effect will be ruined; the taste is still fine but the fluffiness is gone…)
  9. Serve immediately from the frying pan; waiting will deflate the dish.

Remarks

When doing this dish, don’t overdo the salt as the tomme, if it is ripe enough, will actually add plenty of flavour.
How to ripen a tomme? Simple: keep it at cellar temperature for a week, at room temperature for a couple of days. When it feels soft and squashable, it is likely to be perfect.
Cutting it at this stage may be a problem. A cheese knife with holes in it (see picture above) works just fine.  

08 April 2012

Giant Prawns with Stuff in Saffron


It is Easter. Once again, I am back cooking for my Dad. This time the reason is more serious than on past occasions. I feel what I can do now is to remember where my love of food and cooking comes from and to put all best efforts into the meals I do for him.
This is a dish for two people, with twice the amounts it will make a meal for four, ideally served with a big mixed spring salad and boiled rice or perhaps even nicer, with a wild rice mix. For this I sauté 1 small finely chopped onion in a generous dash of olive oil, add the rice, stirring it until it looks glassy before pouring in double the amount of the rice in liquid, to start with, 1 quarter made up of a good white wine, then 3 quarters vegetable broth. I then then allow this to simmer gently until the liquid is soaked up. In the meantime I do the prawns.

What you need (for two people)

  • 4-5 tblsp olive oil
  • 10-12 raw giant prawns
  • 5 cloves of garlic finely sliced
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 10-15 black olives halved and stoned
  • 1 dried chilli (or to taste)
  • 5 slices of sundried tomatoes with the oil drained off cut into small (1 cm) squares
  • optionally (and not pictured) a handful of roasted pine nuts or almond splinters
  • 1-2 sachets saffron
  • sea salt (and pepper or my Cajun Spice) to taste 

What you do

  1. Heat up the olive oil and add the raw prawns.
  2. Fry them briefly on both sides until they are orange, then take them out and put them aside under a cover to keep them warm.
  3. In the olive oil sauté the onions until golden, add the sliced garlic and stir to make sure nothing goes brown. 
  4. Add the crumble chilli, without the seeds if you like it less hot.
  5. Put in the olives and stir or shake to make sure nothing burns.
  6. Add the almonds or pine kernels if you use any and the sun-dried tomatoes.
  7. Shake the saffron over the mixture add the prawns again and warm them up, do not let it too hot as otherwise the prawns get tough. 
  8. Add sea salt (and pepper or my Cajun Spice) to taste.
Thanks for all the inspiration, I will never forget your love of life, of your family and of good food.