White Asparagus Part 2

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As I said in White Asparagus Part 1, I’d always just boiled my white asparagus. Well this asparagus season we went to Spring restaurant in Paris. My favourite taste in the meal was the grapefruit jelly for many reasons, but the white asparagus were delicious too and a revelation. Obviously  chef Daniel Rose shares my opinion that white asparagus should be big and fat, look at these beauties in the photo. You can read about Daniel and his restaurant in an article written by my friend Lesley Chesterman.
The asparagus at Spring were roasted, you can see their brown colouration and served in a shellfish sauce with sorrel leaves and toasted buckwheat. It was a great combination, however it was the idea of roasting them that hooked me. Of course I’d roasted green asparagus in the oven and even put them on the barbecue, but that was before I became an asparagus snob.
I talked to a couple of Parisian friends who pointed out that this was how Alain Passard cooked them at L’Arpège. I’ve eaten there twice, but never in the spring and perhaps never again, given the prices. Well I began with a heavy cast iron pan and butter. My husband did the trimming and peeling and I could only fit 6 fat asparagus in my pan. I added butter to the pan with a drizzle of olive oil and when the butter melted I added the asparagus. I “roasted” them turning them in the pan until they were nicely coloured, with the heat on medium. It took about  12 minutes. At this point my asparagus weren’t completely cooked, so I reduced the heat to low and covered the pan. After another 5 minutes or so, my asparagus were cooked, I tested them with a cake tester. I seasoned them with salt and pepper, added more butter to the pan, and when it began to melt, I served them with the butter and pan juices.
They were delicious, so much so I’m going to have to buy a bigger pan so I can share this treat with friends. And I guess I really pan-roasted and steamed them, if we want to be exact.

White Asparagus Part 1

By | Paris, white asparagus | 2 Comments
I’m an asparagus snob. For me asparagus are white and fat. You have to peel white asparagus, so you want something left when you finish and I’d rather eat three fat ones than half a dozen skinny ones.  When I first came to France eons ago, green asparagus, the only ones I was familiar with at the time, were no where to be found. You could find skinny wild green asparagus, but everything else is white. Today green are everywhere. To my taste white asparagus are superior to green. They are the same plant except the white ones are buried under a mound of sandy soil. This protects them from the light and stops the formation of chlorophyl resulting in a pure asparagus taste, free of the grassiness of the green ones.
One of the main reasons we come to Paris in the spring is to eat white asparagus. I just cook them, my husband does all the work. They must be trimmed at the base and carefully peeled, a small knife is the best tool. You can see how much of the stringy outside he removes, that’s why you buy fat ones.

Now there are always instructions to tie asparagus into neat bundles and steam them standing up. Well bundles are a good idea if you are cooking large numbers, and as for standing them up, how many people own a special steamer for asparagus? I usually cook 12 to 16 at a time so I let them float around in my roasting pan. The roasting pan, on an oval burner, is ideal. You can move the pan so most of the heat is concentrated to one side. (You can also do this with frying pan on a regular burner if you’re careful). Then you place the asparagus in the pan so their bases are over the heat and the tips are further away.  The tips of white asparagus are more robust than green and the stalks are uniform, which makes them easier to cook.

Put the asparagus in the pan to make sure they fit in a single layer and cover with cold water. Remove the asparagus, add about 1 teaspoon of salt and a good pinch of sugar to the pan. Bring the water to a boil, add the asparagus, bases towards the heat and lower the heat so that the water simmers. No matter what you read you need to cook white asparagus longer than green, at least 15 and maybe 25 minutes. The fatter and the older they are the longer they’ll take to cook.

Test by piercing the base of the asparagus with a cake tester, or a fine skewer. You want them cooked NOT crunchy. You also don’t want them overcooked and mushy. Pay attention.  Drain them well on a towel, to help absorb the water, and keep them warm if you plan to serve them hot. You can cook them ahead of time and reheat them in the oven.

Asparagus are often served cold with mayonnaise, or a vinaigrette. My friend Caroline makes a sauce with an egg yolk, mustard and crème fraîche, which she often “lightens” with a stiffly beaten egg white. I prefer them hot and I make a sauce maltaise, a variation on hollandaise with blood orange juice. The blood orange and white asparagus seasons overlap and they match brilliantly. This photo show another good mach for asparagus – scallops Here they are both served with a blood orange butter sauce. Just reduce the zest and juice of a blood orange down to a couple of tablespoons, add 1 tablespoon whipping cream and then whisk in about 100g of unsalted butter, making sure it emulsifies into the sauce and does not melt in.

Simmering asparagus is my main method for cooking this fabulous vegetable, but this spring I discovered another thanks to a dinner at Spring restaurant. More soon.

Fat Dinner part 2

By | Fat, Switzerland | No Comments
Well after all that fat, dinner began with lean duck breast and salad, although it did have a healthy layer of fatty skin, I’m happy to say. Neumarkt chef Rene Zimmermann followed my recipe, using figs, which were in season, rather than blackberries that weren’t. This is exactly how recipes should be approached, smart alternatives rather than following them to the letter.
The main course was braised oxtail with suet dumplings. Cooking for over 50 guests and making my recipe for 6 are very different exercises. Chefs are good at scaling up recipes, but Rene made a small mistake, which he explained at the end of the meal. He used dry not fresh breadcrumbs to make the dumplings thinking it would be fine. It wasn’t and he was the first to admit it, the usually light dumplings were unfortunately dense.
We began with pork fat,  then duck fat followed by suet and now it was butter’s turn to star. Every fat covered in the meal – perfect. The final course was my pepper and orange pound cake, a rather Germanic choice, I thought as I never serve this type of cake for dessert. We washed all this down with a delicious Swiss red wine and then Rene introduced my husband to Alpwhisk.
This is a unique product and it’s history is here with a photo of chef Rene, he’s the taller one. If, like me, your German is very weak run the page through the translator, it is not great, but you’ll get the sense. Alpwhisk was the idea of Rene and Stefan Keller, an alcohol based on a mash of smoked chestnuts. The distilled alcohol is then aged in wine barrels. The production is small, a hundred or so bottles, and I bet we have the only bottle in North America. If you want to taste it you’ll probably have to go to Switzerland, we only have a couple of shots left.

Epiphany – Galette part 2

By | Epiphany, Galette des Rois, Step-by-step | No Comments

Well I hope you have leapt out of bed and gave your puff pastry two more rolls this morning. Now you are ready to make the galette.

Pop it back in the refrigerator and take out the almond filling. It will be firmer, but still sticky. Place it between two pieces of plastic wrap and roll or pat it into a 23cm / 9in circle. Slide it onto a baking sheet and pop it back in the refrigerator. Now find une fève or dried bean. As you can see, if you click the link, you can use almost anything, I use a dried kidney bean, you need something with contrasting colour to the filling, and look for the biggest bean you have, so that it isn’t swallowed by accident, yes it has happened to me, and then you’re left without a king or queen!
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut your puff pastry in half and roll into two squares, about 28cm / 11in, then cut out two circles, one 25cm / 10in, and the other 26cm / 101/2in in diameter. (If you find the pastry elastic, springing back on itself, then simply return it to the refrigerator and let it rest). Now, you are probably saying I don’t have the fancy metal discs for measuring the circle, I think this is the only time I use them. Be creative, the top of a cake tin, the bottom of a springform pan, or if you can’t find anything cut a cardboard circle. Keep the trimmings, you can freeze them, to make palmiers p 60.

Turn the 25cm pastry circle over and place on the prepared baking sheet. (Turning the cut pastry over helps it to rise more evenly).
Remove the plastic wrap from the top of the almond circle and centre it on the pastry. (In the book, I place a layer of drained, cooked rhubarb, which adds colour and tartness, but this year I am staying very traditional). The almond mixture will still be soft, by keeping the plastic on it you can move it more easily. You can also smooth and adjust it with a spatula. Remove the plastic wrap, insert the bean, and  brush the edges of the pastry circle with egg wash, remember you set it aside yesterday.

Now flip the larger pastry circle and place on top.  Press to seal very well, trimming the top circle if necessary. Scallop the edges with the back of a knife and cut a steam vent in the top. Using a sharp knife, gently score the top of the pastry by cutting curving lines form the center steam vent to the edge.
Brush with egg wash and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and preferably one hour. (Be careful not to get the egg wash on the cut edges of the pastry, as it will stop it from rising).

Heat the oven to 220C /425F.
Brush the galette with egg wash again and bake until the pastry is puffed and dark golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool on a rack and serve at room temperature. And you should have something that looks like this and even if it doesn’t it will taste good. Now all you need is a crown for your king or queen.


The day before Epiphany-Galette part 1

By | Epiphany, Galette des Rois, Step-by-step | 4 Comments

If you follow this blog you will know that I have written about galette des rois before. So instead of recounting the history of this cake, this post is a practical how to make one, no need to buy the book Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with RecipesIf you have the book the recipe is p 64.

First you need puff pastry. You’re probably tempted to buy it, thinking it was too hard to make, well don’t and you’re wrong. Puff pastry is simple it just take time and while you are waiting for the pastry you can make the filling, which must be made in advance and then go back to checking your Twitter feed.

You need a cool kitchen and a set of scales. Mix 250g / 83/4 oz flour with 1 teaspoon fine sea salt. Now weigh out the same amount of unsalted butter, then take about 30g / 1oz of the butter and rub it into the flour until mealy. Take 150ml / 2/3 cup of ice water, the advantage of living in Toronto in the winter, is that the water straight from the tap is ice cold, add a squeeze of lemon juice to the water and pour it over the flour mixture. Stir with a fork until the liquid is mixed in, then tip the mixture onto a cool surface.
Don’t be tempted to add more water even though it looks like you haven’t added enough.

Knead it,  gathering up all the flour until, it forms a ball. Do this gently and it will come together in a couple of minutes. It should look something like this.


Cut a cross in the top of the dough, then wrap and refrigerate for about 10 minutes.


Meanwhile,  attack the butter. place it between two sheets of parchment or was paper and beat it with a rolling pin, good for working out stress, until the butter is pliable. Shape it into a rough 15cm / 6in square. The reason for doing this is twofold: to shape the butter and have it the same consistency as the dough. Test the dough and the butter by pushing your finger into them, they should have the same consistency. If necessary, place the dough back into the refrigerator.


Rolling between the cross, roll out 4 flaps of dough, leaving the centre four times as thick as the flaps. Try to roll a rough square about 30cm / 12 in. Place the butter on top of the thicker dough centre, so it sits as a diamond on the square dough.

Now fold over the flaps to enclose the dough and to make four layers on top of the butter and a square about 30cm / 12 in.

Tap the pastry square firmly with your rolling pin to seal the edges and flatten slightly.


Roll into a rectangle about 45×15 cm / 18×6 in trying to keep the edges of the pastry as straight as you can. Now fold the pastry into three, from the short end, as you would fold a letter, then turn the pastry 90 degrees so the open end is towards you. Tap the pastry with the rolling pin to seal and flatten.


Roll out again into a rectangle and fold into three. Press two fingers into the pastry to indicate that you have given it two turns. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.


While you are waiting you can make the filling for the galette. It is a frangipane, a rich almond filling that needs to be refrigerated overnight to firm up.

You need 100g / 31/2oz each of unsalted butter, caster (superfine) sugar and ground almonds, a pinch of fine sea salt, 2 tablespoons flour, 2 eggs and 1 tablespoon aged rum or Cognac. Place the butter, sugar and salt in a food processor and process until well mixed. Add the almonds, and flour and process to blend. Whisk the eggs, then set aside two tablespoons of egg mixture (this will be for the egg wash so cover ad refrigerate). Add the rum to the remaining egg mixture and pour over the almond mixture. Process until well mixed. It will resemble a batter, turn into a bowl, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

Take your pastry out of the refrigerator and let it warm up to room temperature and roll it into a rectangle again, fold it and turn at as before, so giving it another two turns. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The puff pastry needs two more rollings before using. You could continue the rolling after letting it rest at least one hour, in the refrigerator, but you would have had to make the filling the day before.

So check back tomorrow (Epiphany) for part 2.