Tag Archives: asparagus

Asparagus Ricotta Galette

BakedOnce local asparagus shows up, you know that flip flops and a chilled glass of rosé can’t be too far behind. This tart is a splendid way to showcase asparagus, Post-Asparagus Stinky-Urine Disorder, be damned.one sliceMild, milky ricotta is the ideal partner for asparagus. They complement each other perfectly. Ricotta can be a bit bland, so I added  lemon zest, lemon juice and red pepper flakes to ramp up the flavour. Some grated Gruyere cheese and a beaten egg add some heft to the filling.

For the dough, I decided to use Kim Boyce’s Rustic Rye Dough, from her book Good to the Grain. The hearty rye dough stands up quite well against asparagus’ strong flavour.

This dough takes a bit of time and needs several hours to chill. If you don’t have the time or the inclination, I think that this tart would still be very delicious using my go-to simple Galette Dough.making rye dough 1Rye flour, all purpose flour sugar and salt are sifted. Cold butter is worked in with your hands. Ice water and cider vinegar bring it all together.making rye dough 2Once the dough comes together, let it rest in the fridge for about an hour, then roll it into a rectangle, and fold the rectangle into thirds, like a letter. This is similar to the process of making puff pastry. The dough gets rolled and folded two more times and is then chilled for an additional hour. You can make the dough and the filling components a day ahead and then just assemble and bake before you are ready to eat. making rye dough 3making rye dough 4I decided to roll the dough into a rectangular shaped tart, but feel free to to roll it into a circle. I have a strong aesthetic sense and I prefer the linear way the asparagus line up in a rectangular tart.

To punch up the flavour profile even more, I spread the tart with a pistachio pesto (recipe from Anna Jones’ A Modern Way to Cook.)  Whole grain dijon mustard or a jarred basil pesto would  be good substitutes.Spreading pistachio pestoSpreading ricotta fillingThe border of the tart just gets folded over the filling. No need to be too precise or precious about it. It’s supposed to be rustic. galette ready for ovengalette cut upThis would be great as a light lunch or dinner, or cut up into smaller squares and served for aperitivo with a freezing cold glass of Prosecco, on the dock. (I have big plans for this tart!)3 plates

Click here to print recipe for Aspsaragus and Ricotta Galette.

Click here to print recipe for Rustic Rye Dough or here to print recipe for Galette Dough.

galette with a glass of wine

Roasted Asparagus with Dukkah

asparagus on white platterWhen a chef takes a humble ingredient, like the carrot, and makes it sublime, I pay attention. My first carrot experience created by Chef Michelle Bernstein, was 5 years ago, at The Omphoy Hotel in Palm Beach. I was visiting my friend Marla and we went to a killer barre class at the hotel’s Exhale Spa. After class we hobbled over to the restaurant for breakfast.

Once we ordered our poached eggs, the waiter delivered a basket of hot biscuits and house made carrot marmalade to the table. He said we must try the marmalade, and because our mammas raised us right, just to be polite, we ate all the biscuits and asked for a second ramekin of the carrot marmalade. I still have no idea what was in it or how they got it to taste so good. but I think about it often.

My second Michelle Bernstein carrot experience was last month in Miami. I was in town for my nephew’s wedding. We had a spare night so we went to dinner at her Biscayne Blvd. restaurant Cena. I started with the roasted carrots topped with whipped sardinian ricotta and dukkah. Once again, her wizardry with carrots dazzled me. Sadly, I just heard the restaurant closed on May 31.

Dukkah is a Middle Eastern nut and spice mix. I have written about it before, a few years ago. One of my favourite ways to eat it is to dip pita in olive oil and then do a second dunk into the dukkah. A very satisfying and addictive little bite. It had never occurred to me to sprinkle dukkah on vegetables, but it totally works.

Fat spears of asparagus got my attention at the market so I abandoned all plans of roasted carrots. You gotta go with what looks good that day. I decided on a pistachio based dukkah, but feel free to use any nut you like. Sesame seeds, fennel, cumin and coriander seeds add fragrant deliciousness. ready to cookSeeds and nuts are toasted and then coarsely ground in the food processor. making dukkah 1making dukkah 2asparagus on preheated pan

Click here to print recipe for Roasted Asparagus with Pistachio Dukkah.asparagus on red plate

Spring Chicken

ready to eat When spring finally arrives, most people don’t normally turn to braising as a cooking method. But you guys don’t read this blog because I’m like most people. I promise I will hustle out to the BBQ very soon, but this braised spring chicken recipe really deserves your attention now. Mindy Fox created this recipe for epicurious.com. I adapted it slightly.

I decided on using boneless skinless thighs for this to hasten the cooking time. Feel free to use bone-in thighs or breasts if that’s how you roll. Just promise me you won’t select boneless breasts. They are not meant for braising. I treated the thighs to a generous seasoning of ground fennel seeds, paprika, salt and pepper.seasoning chickenAfter an initial browning, the thighs are simmered gently in white wine and chicken stock. The proper technique is to have the chicken pieces only halfway submerged in the braising liquid. Don’t drown them.

Leeks are thinly sliced and slowly sautéed until meltingly tender. Fat spears of asparagus and green peas pretty much shout “SPRING”. I used frozen peas because fresh are still a few weeks away for us here in Ottawa. Mini yellow, red and purple potatoes seemed like a good idea so I invited them to this spring fête as well!slicing leeksThe braising liquid gets reduced and treated to a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Scatter chopped dill and lemon zest over everything and celebrate spring.pouring on sauce 625 sq

Click here to print recipe for Spring Chicken.

ready to eat 2

Asparagus Panzanella Salad

plated 625 sq 3I promise that this asparagus post (unlike my previous one) will not offend anyone by mentioning any bodily functions, so feel safe to read on. This post is all about the unabashed joy of celebrating all things green this spring.

The classic panzanella salad originated in Tuscany. It was a way to use up stale bread and highlight tomatoes at the pinnacle of their summertime glory. Often onions, cucumber and basil are added. The texture of the bread in traditional panzanella is not supposed to be crunchy or chewy or crusty like croutons. If you have ever eaten this salad in Italy, you will recall that the bread is light, a bit wet, airy, just short of mushy. I was shocked when I had it a few years ago on the Amalfi Coast, and to be frank, was less than enthused. It sort of had the texture of fluffy torn-up matzoh balls. There is a very fine line between lightly moistened and unpleasantly soggy. Although I love the classics, in my panzanella salad, I want the bread to have a bit of chew and crunch. 

The inspiration for this spring panzanella came from Chef Michael Symon. Asparagus and green peas get top billing in this version of panzanella. Out of season tomatoes need not apply for entry into this salad. Like Michael, I grilled my asparagus, but I also shaved a few raw spears with my vegetable peeler to get some fresh crunch.shaving raw asparagusI used a half a loaf of Ciabatta bread I had in the freezer. I thawed it and then tore it into chunks, rather than cutting it into neat cubes. Tearing it gives a more rustic appearance and all those craggy surfaces have a better chance of soaking up the flavourful dressing. oil on croutons

cutting asparagus

grilling asparagus

chopping mintIf fresh peas in a pod are available where you live, go ahead and indulge. I used frozen peas since we are at least a month away from fresh here. I really love frozen peas. It seems to be a family thing. My daughter used to eat frozen peas as her afternoon snack every day when she was about 4 years old. Peas are one of the few vegetables that are actually better frozen. Unless you have green-peas growing in your backyard or access to a Farmer’s Market, you really are better off buying frozen. Cook’s Illustrated explains why this is so:

“Fresh peas have very little stamina. They lose a substantial portion of their nutrients within 24 hours of being picked  This rapid deterioration is the reason for the starchy, bland flavor of most “fresh” peas found at the grocery store. These not-so-fresh peas might be several days old, depending on where they came from and how long they were kept in the cooler. Frozen peas, on the other hand, are picked, cleaned, sorted, and frozen within several hours of harvest, which helps to preserve their delicate sugars and flavours “

I finished the salad off with some crumbled Ricotta Salata cheese (a firm ricotta). If you can’t find it, Feta would work just as well. Ricotta salata is a sheep’s milk cheese that has been pressed, dried and salted. It has a dense, slightly spongy texture and fresh milky flavour.ricotta salata 3

servingA quick dressing is made with garlic, dijon, sherry or red wine vinegar and olive oil. Fresh chopped mint gets sprinkled over the whole dish. This is a delicious addictive salad. I was home alone the day I made this and polished off the entire platter after photographing it. The contrast of the soft grilled asparagus was really wonderful against the crunch of the fresh shaved raw asparagus ribbons. The peas, barely cooked gave a great pop of green brightness. I mixed everything together and let the salad sit for at least 20 minutes. By the time I ate it the croutons had time to soak up the dressing and they were chewy but still just a bit crunchy. Perfect.

Click here to print recipe for Asparagus and Panzanella Salad.

I had a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with this salad. Asparagus is quite difficult to pair with wine, as certain chemicals in asparagus can make your wine taste vegetal, grassy, or just plain rotten. A crisp and refreshing Sauvignon Blanc is a perfect match. I am currently crushing on New Zealand Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc. It has a juicy acidity and crisp finish that pairs perfectly with this salad.

If you are curious about learning more regarding food and wine pairings, check out Natalie MacLean’s Great Canadian Wine Match. Natalie is a certified sommelier and was named the World’s Best Wine Writer at the World Food Media Awards.

the-great-canadian-wine-match-2013-lo

This is the first People’s Choice Competition for Canadian food and wine pairings. A real on-line battle of the bottles! The search for Canada’s best wine and food pairings launched on May 8. Wine drinkers from coast to coast are rallying behind their favourite Canadian pairings in this first grassroots, “bottoms up” competition.

Wine lovers can nominate and vote for their favourite Canadian wines as pairings in six Canadian food categories: cheese, chicken, beef, seafood, pizza and dessert. Voting ends May 20 when the top five wines in each category move to the showdown finalist phase. Wines from each region in Canada will vie to be named the best wine with a particular Canadian dish.

“This is a coast to coast toast to celebrate our own wine and food ,” says MacLean. “I think we can all drink to that.”

Let’s get personal with asparagus

Asparagus photo wikipedia labelled It’s entirely possible that I may be jumping the gun a bit by writing about asparagus during the end of April. Here in Ottawa we will not be seeing any local crops until mid-May at the earliest.  However, given the winter that we recently crawled out of, I hope I can be forgiven for buying California asparagus at Costco last week. I could not wait any longer.

Perhaps like you, I have a love hate relationship with asparagus. I love it when I eat it, but not so much about 15 minutes later when I pee. Up until recently it was believed that everybodys urine has that pungent aroma after eating asparagus, but not everyone can smell it.

It should be noted that the effect of asparagus on urine odour has been around for several hundred years. Apparently one British men’s club is said to have put up a sign reading, “During the asparagus season, members are requested not to relieve themselves in the hat stand.” I would have hoped that men would always have the good sense to never relieve themselves in the hat stand, but perhaps that’s just asking too much of that gender.

More recent scientific studies on what I like to call “The Great Asparagus Pee Mystery” (yes folks, there are some freaky scientists out there actually studying it) have now theorized that there are really two factors at play here; the ability to produce the aroma and the ability to detect the aroma.  Both are determined by genetics.

Let’s deal first with the ability to produce the aroma. Asparagus contains a sulphurous compound called mercaptan. Enzymes in your digestive system break down the mercaptan and certain by-products are released that cause the offensive odour. But, here’s where it gets interesting. Not everyone has the gene for that enzyme. If you are part of the 54% of the population whose DNA lacks the gene for this enzyme, then you will not produce smelly urine after eating asparagus.

Now, what about the ability to detect the aroma? It has been theorized that depending on your DNA, you may or may not have the olfactory receptors to detect the scent. Some of us are “super-smellers” and others are just “smell-blind” when it comes to asparagus pee.

To simplify things I have created a chart!

Microsoft Word - Stinkers and smellers.docx

If you are one of those with a malfunctioning olfactory sense, I envy you. Although looking on the bright side, when I am old and my memory is failing, I will always be able to remember that I had asparagus for dinner!

A word to the wise should you happen to find yourself at the Spargelfest (Asparagus festival) in Beelitzer Germany  or any of these other Asparagus Festivals, this spring. If you are a super smeller, you may want to hold your breath when you enter the bathroom stalls!

The fact that I am a stinker and a smeller does not hold me back from eating asparagus when it is in season. One of my favourite ways to enjoy it is to simply steam it and serve it with poached eggs. I love to dip the spears into the runny golden egg yolk. Last week, I served the poached eggs on top of Rösti potatoes, with the asparagus dippers on the side. A perfect spring dinner!ready to eat 2 625Rösti potatoes, also known as shredded potato cake, is not the same thing as latkes. Latkes are made with shredded raw potatoes, whereas Rösti are made with shredded par-boiled potatoes. Yukon Gold or Idaho potatoes are perfect for this dish.

Once the potatoes are parboiled, they should be allowed to chill in the fridge for several hours, or even up to a day, before they are peeled and shredded. This is the secret to getting the a crispy golden crust on the outside of the potato cake and having a fluffy and tender inside.grating potatoesThe shredded potato is mixed with some salt and pepper and gets pressed into a hot cast iron skillet, with a little bit of both butter and vegetable oil.pressing down in panPatience is required here. Turn the heat down to medium low and let it get brown. This will take at least 15 minutes. When the underside is brown, flip the cake out into a large plate, browned side up. Add more oil and butter to the pan and slide the cake back into the pan, pale side down. Brown the second side.first side browned

While the Rösti potato cake is cooking, steam or boil asparagus and poach eggs. If you are at all intimidated about making poached eggs, please know that you are not alone, and there is help. Serious Eats posted a fool-proof method for poaching eggs, that is really quite genius, and actually works! Click on the link above to view the video if you are planning top poach eggs.

Click here to print recipe for Rösti topped with Poached Eggs and Asparagus Dippers.