We enjoyed this dish as a starter when in Milan, on a beautiful evening, eating al fresco and enjoying the wonderful combination of the sweetness and bitterness of the asparagus, the slightly caramelised sugars as a result of grilling the asparagus and the salty and sweet cheese. A glass of Pinot Grigio was all we wanted. In Milan we enjoyed grilled green asparagus, but it works equally well with white asparagus. This is typically a dish to prepare when the asparagus season is at its high and outside temperatures feel like summer.
Serve with a glass of Pinot Grigio, a Muscat or Pinot Gris from the Alsace region or a rosé with character. The wine needs to combine with a range of very diverse flavors so it should be a bit complex.
What You Need
3 Asparagus per person
What You Do
Peel the asparagus and cook or steam until slightly tender. Depending on the size we would say 10-15 minutes in the Russel Hobss steamer. Leave and let cool. Take a plate, add some oil to the plate and use it to coat the asparagus with oil. Heat the pan and grill the asparagus for 4*1 minute, making sure you have a lovely brown (not too dark) pattern. Or use a contact grill for 2*2 minutes. Serve on a plate, add some grated Parmesan cheese and pepper. Add a generous drizzle of very excellent olive oil.
Spring brings us several edible or even delicious mushrooms, such as the Mushroom of Saint George, Morels and the Fairy Ring Mushroom.
The mushroom of Saint George (Calocybe gambosa) is usually the first edible mushroom to appear. Its name derives from St George’s Day, 23rd April, by which date it can be found in the UK. Its French and Italian name (for instance Tricholome de la Saint-Georges in France) also refer to this day. Its Dutch name (Voorjaarspronkridder) and its Swedish name (Vårmusseron meaning spring mushroom) refer to the fact that the mushroom is available for a short period only.
Famous chef and author Jane Grigson isn’t a fan of the mushroom. In her classic book The Mushroom Feast she writes “I have omitted one or two which our mushroom books follow each other in praising too highly. One of these is the Saint George’s Mushroom.”
Perhaps because the smell is so rare? Some say the mushroom smells of cucumber; others say melon rind or refer to a mealy scent. We think it’s more like overripe zucchini or even ghee that is a bit offish. In all cases, a not-very-pleasant-smell to remember. The good news is that the smell disappears as soon as you heat the mushrooms.
The mushroom of Saint George is clearly a spring-mushroom, but we think that you will have some reminiscence of autumn when eating this dish. A hint of earthiness. Intense but not overwhelming. However, the combination of ramson and Saint George’s mushroom is 100% spring.
Confused? Perhaps that’s part of the fun of eating Saint George’s mushroom.
We suggest an oaked chardonnay, for instance Domaine De La Prade from the Languedoc region in France. The wine has a pale, yellow colour, aromas of ripe tropical fruit and its taste is intense, buttery and comes with a touch of oak. The wine has a long lasting taste.
Feel free to go for a US or Australian Chardonnay. A full-bodied, gently oaked chardonnay will go very well with the mushroom and the udon.
Clean the mushrooms with kitchen paper and if necessary clean the stems with a sharp knife. Slice the pancetta in small slices. Heat a heavy iron skillet, add olive oil and quickly fry the pancetta. Transfer to a plate with kitchen paper and keep in the oven on 60° Celsius or 140° Fahrenheit. Slice the mushrooms, fry them gently in the pan and reduce the heat. Add chicken stock. Add some crème fraiche. In parallel cook the udon for 10 minutes. Drain the udon and keep some of the cooking liquid. Add the udon to the mushrooms in the pan, add black pepper and stir gently, making sure all pasta is covered. Add some cooking liquid to make sure it’s nice and moist. Add the pancetta and the sliced leaves (lengthwise, remove the vein) of ramson, mix and serve immediately. Decorate with a ramson flower.
A salad can be an excellent starter of your lunch or dinner, provided it’s one with lots of flavour and gentle acidity. For instance a Salade Niçoise, a Salade Caprese or a salad of White Asparagus and Chervil.
Chervil is a very delicate herb. It tastes like anise, but it is much more refined. Chervil looses its taste almost immediately when heated. The salad needs to be prepared well in advance, allowing for the flavours to be well integrated.
Honey can easily ruin a salad (and sugar will always ruin a salad). In this case we use only a touch of honey to create an environment for the sweetness of the white asparagus. The honey should act as a trigger.
The salad is a great example of the complexity of white asparagus: you will taste the sweetness and the freshness of the asparagus. The mouth feel of the salad is very nice, because the asparagus will be both juicy and crispy, with the chervil, honey and vinegar in a supporting role.
After having mixed the salad you will notice that the asparagus and chervil absorb the dressing. During the time in the refrigerator the asparagus will loose some juices, which is actually the beginning of a great dressing.
Combining salad and wine is not straightforward. Especially the acidity of the dressing creates a challenge. One solution is to use verjuice and not vinegar. Verjuice is made by pressing unripe grapes. The idea is that verjuice links to wine, whereas classic vinegar or lemon juice would compete with wine. In this case we choose a wine that reflects the flavours of the salad: a hint of anise, a touch of sweetness and florality. Typical notes you will find in a wine from the Alsace region, for instance a Pinot Blanc or a Pinot Gris.
What You Need
2 White Asparagus per person
Excellent Olive Oil
White Wine Vinegar or Verjuice
Lots of Chervil
Touch of Honey
What You Do
Steam the asparagus for 10 minutes. Let cool. Dry with kitchen paper if needed. Prepare a dressing with the olive oil and vinegar. Chop the chervil and add to the dressing. Add a touch of honey and stir well. Add some white pepper. Taste the dressing: it should be a balance, meaning that none of the ingredients is overly present. Now slice the asparagus in nice chunks, let’s say 3 centimetres long. Mix, cover and transfer to the refrigerator for 6 hours. Mix the salad every two hours. Check the taste after 4 hours, you may want to adjust. Mix the dressing just before serving.
Finally, it’s spring. The season of white asparagus, morels and many more primeurs. This dish brings together white asparagus with eggs, excellent ham, butter, small potatoes and parsley. Taste the slight bitterness and sweetness of the asparagus, the umami of the potato and enjoy the velvety feeling on your palate as a result of the butter and the egg. Don’t be tempted to boil white asparagus in water with butter, lemon, sugar or salt. Steaming is by far the best way to prepare them. We love our Russel Hobbs food steamer! Simple, straightforward and the result is a tribute to spring.
Ideally we would serve a dry Muscat from the Elzas with our asparagus. The delicate, slightly sweet but dry taste, the hint of bitterness and the rich aromas work very well with white asparagus. Muscat to us means the smell of fresh fruit. As if you taste the original grape. A wonderful wine and a wonderful combination. Fortunately asparagus are fairly flexible when it comes to wine: a Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris will also be fine.
We opened a bottle of Vinho Verdefrom Portugal. A light and vibrant wine with clear notes of citrus and floral aromas that combined rather well with the flavours of the asparagus. Not the most exquisite combination, but it worked for us.
What You Need
6 or 10 White Asparagus
100 gram Excellent, Organic Ham
Small Firm Potatoes
What You Do
Peel the asparagus and steam them for 20 minutes. Steam the eggs medium (10 minutes), making sure the yolk is firm but not dry. Wash the potatoes and steam them for 15 minutes. Timing depends on the size. Melt the butter. Peel the egg and cut in four. Chop the parsley. Serve the asparagus and eggs on a plate. Coat the potatoes with butter and parsley. Dress the plate with ham (please make sure it has a bit of fat) and potatoes. Poor the remaining melted butter over the asparagus. Sprinkle the parsley over the egg. Add some white pepper.
One of the most delicious aspects of spring: fresh morels. They combine really well with asparagus, calves’ kidneys and chicken. Jane Grigson offers two recipes for morels and chicken in her classic The Mushroom Feast, but her recipe for Flan with Morels à la Crème genuinely inspired us. It combines pastry with Mornay sauce and morels. Mornay sauce is a béchamel sauce with grated, hard cheese (preferably Gruyère). Very old fashioned of course and a modern chef will not touch it. Which is a pity, because béchamel sauce is worth exploring. One of the more intriguing stories is that the sauce was created by Marquis Louis de Béchameil who served at the court of Louis XIV at Versailles. It’s probably more realistic to think that chef François Pierre de la Varenne created it in the 17th century. He would have made a white stock (veal or chicken and lots of herbs) and used egg yolks and flower to get the right consistency. Many years later Antonin Carême described the use of a roux and added not only egg yolks but also cream. It was Auguste Escoffier who changed the recipe and created the béchamel sauce as we know it today. The béchamel sauce as it was made by Antonin Carême is rich, velvety and full of flavours. Let’s pay tribute to the great Carême and cook his version of this sauce!
The wine needs to accompany the subtle sweetness in the sauce and the nuttiness, umami, pancake-like taste of the morels. We suggest a fruity, well balanced, red wine, for instance a French Merlot, a Spanish Bobal, a Zinfandel or a Gamay.
Chop 5 centimetre of carrot, one small shallot and the stems of the morels. Melt butter in a pan and let the ingredients become tender. Add flour (same quantity as the butter), combine and warm well, without colouring the mixture; let’s say 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock, bit by bit and create the interim sauce (the velouté). Keep it warm for at least 15 minutes because this will improve the taste and the consistency. Half an hour is better. In parallel clean the morels and slice lengthwise in 2 or 4. Add to a pan with butter and warm for 10 minutes or more. Also in parallel fry the chicken in olive oil. This may take 15-20 minutes. When the chicken is nearly ready, put the morels on a sheet of kitchen paper and keep warm in the oven. Feel free to add some of the cooking liquid to the sauce. Pass the interim sauce through a sieve. In a glass bowl whisk together a tablespoon of cream and the egg yolk until smooth. Slowly add the warm sauce into the mixture of egg and cream, whisking constantly. When this is done, transfer the sauce back to a clean pan and warm the sauce until it starts to thicken. Be careful because otherwise the sauce will curdle. Taste the sauce and add white pepper. Warm it through and through. Slice the chicken. Serve the chicken with the sauce and the morels on a hot plate.