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.
While in Paris this May I went with friends to Septime, a restaurant très à la mode in the 11th arrondissement. Well this isn’t a review about the food, perhaps another time, but the first course included kohlrabi or chou-rave as I discovered it is called in French. Kohlrabi is a type of cabbage, not a celery as the French name would have it. Nor it is a turnip or a root. It is a stem is swollen into a turnip shape. The name comes from Germany where they love it.
Very thin slices covered a big fat white asparagus, that wasn’t quite cooked enough for my taste and there was a dollop of honey on the side to counteract the kohlrabi’s bitterness. The dish was interesting, not great, then I went to London. London and kohlrabi aren’t obviously related until you think of Yotam Ottolenghi.
I share a bond with Yotam, we both lost out to the fabulous Molly Stevens in the cookbook awards, so I had to see just what he was up to. I visited his Belgravia store where I fell in love with the roasted beetroot and rhubarb salad. The next day I had lunch with a friend who had picked up all the food from the same store. At lunch it was the dressing on the green salad that stole my attention. I wanted his book, Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes From London’s Ottolenghi. I bought the original edition with weights, not cups.
His cabbage and kohlrabi salad caught my attention, see this story is going somewhere. I had all the ingredients on hand, except of course the kohlrabi. The mixture of cabbage, kohlrabi, dried sour cherries and alfalfa sprouts with lots of dill, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic salt and pepper was very good. Now I am taking kohlrabi seriously.
Grigson notes as well as being a popular in Eastern Europe, kohlrabi is beloved in Israel. That no doubt explains Yotam’s deft hand. Give it a try, but be mindful of Grigson’s advice and buy kohlrabis (yes it sounds odd but it’s one kohlrabi, two kohlrabis) sized somewhere between a golf and a tennis ball, any bigger and it will be as tough.
The spring has started wet and cool here. Although the weather isn’t spring-like, the produce in the markets screams spring. The main reason we come to Paris at this time of the year is to eat white asparagus. These beauties were displayed with a bulb of new garlic.
White asparagus must be peeled and trimmed before cooking, and if they are thin there is nothing left, so we always buy big, fat ones. My husband has become an expert at peeling them, leaving no coarse strings behind. White asparagus must also be cooked until tender, not crunchy, and this takes time, depending on their thickness and age it can take 20 minutes or more. Simmer them in salted water with a pinch of sugar. Test the asparagus at the thick end, I often insert a cake tester from the cut end, the whole length of the spear, if there is no resistance, I know they are ready. Drain them on a towel before serving. For our first meal we devoured them with hollandaise and slice country ham.
The tight buds open up to reveal lighter coloured flowers that become paler as they age. I am not sure why, but peonies always make me joyful. So even as the rain falls, and the temperature barely edges into double digits I’m smiling.