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White Asparagus Gratin

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Growing up in Germany in the early 60s made for many interesting childhood memories, but few of them had anything to do with vegetables. We ate a lot of canned fruits and vegetables from the military P/X in those days—not much to remember about those items except they tasted great to childhood me even though they were mushy and laden with either sugary syrup or lots of salt.

While we grocery shopped almost daily in the cities, villages and towns where we lived, fruits and vegetables from those days aren’t much in my memory. In general, I remember the green grocer as a fairly austere place, lots of onions, apples and potatoes and little else save for the occasional “special” brought in and placed in the front of the store several times during the year. In the spring, the “special” was usually white asparagus. The first time I recall tasting this, I was unimpressed. The whole family agreed that it was stringy, bitter and bland all at the same time. Never one to give up easily, my mother went to the grocer and complained of the taste and texture and the pushback was fierce—“no, no—you must be cooking it wrong, it is a delicacy—so delicious!!!!!” She was instructed to peel the spears and then simmer them in milk. And we went from that simple instruction to this simple dish that we all looked forward to enjoying a couple of times each spring. You could dress it up more with lemon zest, capers, or any number of herbs, but be sparing– the taste of white asparagus is so subtle that too much excitement will drown out the sweetness that this milk simmer gives it.

White Asparagus Gratin

Ingredients:

12 spears White Asparagus
2 cups (approximately) milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (made from any good tasting bread, pulsed fine in a food processor)
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste (about ¼ teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper)
Fresh Parmesan, curled with a vegetable peeler, for the top

Preparation:

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Cut off the bottom 1-inch of the asparagus spears. Using a vegetable peeler, lay each spear on a flat cutting board and peel from just under the tips to the end of each spear. Place the peeled spears in a medium saucepan and add just enough milk to cover. Place over medium-low heat, bring to a simmer and cook gently until the asparagus is very tender when probed with a fork. Remove the spears to paper towels to drain and then arrange on a platter.

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While the asparagus is cooking, melt the butter in a small sauté pan and add the breadcrumbs and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the asparagus, top with the Parmesan and serve immediately.

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Lemon Shrimp

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Going into the weekend with a well-stocked refrigerator makes for more relaxing time on the couch and since I’m in the middle of three books that I’m thoroughly enjoying (see note below), I’m going to make this shrimp for the weekend. …Continue reading: Lemon Shrimp

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Irish Potato Pancakes

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St. Patrick’s Day is Monday and in honor of those of us with some “Irish” in us—today’s recipe is for a delicious side dish of potato pancakes. …Continue reading: Irish Potato Pancakes

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Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Pumpernickel Croutons

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For people in my age bracket, cauliflower spent some years in the penalty box. I remember it as part of a bland and boring “vegetable medley” in restaurants and in frozen foods and was sort of a crumbly, tasteless additive. Freshly cooked, it was only boiled or steamed and gave off a sort of unpleasant cabbage-y aroma as it cooked. Coming home to the smell of cooking cauliflower, never elicited a cheerful “mmm, what’s for dinner?” more of a suspicious “uh, what’s for dinner?” with a follow-up disappointed “oh.”

Then a few years ago, some genius cook came up with the idea of roasting it, and a yummy new vegetable was born. Roasted, it tastes buttery, nutty and creamy, all at the same time—and loves to be sauced with flavors like curry, capers, garlic and lemon. So when I saw a version of this soup in Food and Wine magazine, I was inspired to try it, and I am happy to report that the results are really good.

This made a very satisfying lunch for us—we just had this soup and kept two small bowls of croutons and snipped chives nearby to replenish our toppings every so often. It also reheats well, so we repeated this meal several times, with no change at all to the taste or texture.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Pumpernickel Croutons

12 servings

For the Soup

1 large head of cauliflower, leaves removed, stem trimmed
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, divided
Kosher salt
1 large onion, minced
¼ cup heavy cream
Fresh chives and olive oil for garnish

For the Croutons

8 slices pumpernickel bread, torn into ½ inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 sprigs rosemary
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

To make the soup:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the whole cauliflower in a pie pan (or other baking dish). With clean hands, take four tablespoons of the softened butter and rub it all over the cauliflower. Sprinkle all over with kosher salt. Pour ½ cup of water into the dish. Roast for an hour and a half until the cauliflower is very tender. Remove it from the oven and set aside to cool.

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Meanwhile, make the croutons:

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Melt the butter and the olive oil over low heat in a medium skillet. Add the rosemary sprigs and the garlic and gently cook for a couple of minutes. Remove the rosemary and the garlic from the pan and add the croutons. Stir the croutons to coat with the flavored oil and butter and sauté over low heat until crisp. Set aside to cool.

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To finish the soup:

In a large saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter on low heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft but not browned, for about 10 to 15 minutes. Chop the cauliflower and add it to the mixture, along with 4 cups of water. Simmer the soup for about 10 minutes. If you have one, use an immersion blender to puree the soup until it is smooth or work in batches and puree the soup in a blender or processor. Add the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter, the cream and kosher salt and pepper to taste.

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Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with a drizzle of oil, a small handful of croutons and chopped chives.

 

 

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Cajun Shrimp Casserole

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This morning I was watching CNBC and somewhat oddly, for a financial news channel, they were airing an interview with the Olympic Dutch speed skating coach. …Continue reading: Cajun Shrimp Casserole

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White Lasagna

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On a business trip to Paris a long time ago, I was invited to “the boss’s house” for lunch. The house was a beautiful apartment above the famed Place Vendôme.

…Continue reading: White Lasagna

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