White Asparagus with Chervil

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.

Wine Pairing

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
  • White Pepper

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.

White Asparagus with Ham, Egg, Potatoes and Parsley

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.

Wine Pairing

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 Verde from 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
  • 2 Eggs
  • 100 gram Excellent, Organic Ham
  • Small Firm Potatoes
  • Parsley
  • Butter
  • White Pepper

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.

White Asparagus with Ham, Egg, Potatoes and Parsley ©cadwu
White Asparagus with Ham, Egg, Potatoes and Parsley ©cadwu

Spicy Grilled Octopus

We have all experienced chewy, fibrous and tasteless octopus, so how to make sure your octopus is juicy, tender and full of flavours?

Since octopuses don’t have bones, they have very tough connective tissue (collagen) between the muscles. When heating the octopus for a few hours, the collagen will break down into soft gelatine and the meat will become tender and juicy, just as you would like it to be.

‘How to speed up the process’, you wonder?
You could add vinegar to the cooking liquid, you could prepare the octopus by storing it in brine for a few hours, you could beat and pound the flesh, you could freeze the octopus for a few days, you could try adding a wine cork to the cooking liquid (hilarious!).
Unfortunately none of these short cuts make a significant difference.

The best method is to stew the octopus in a large pot or in the oven. This may take 4 hours or more. Octopuses contain a fair amount of juices and you want to capture these and their lovely flavours, which is exactly what you do when stewing an octopus.
Cooking an octopus in water for hours means losing these flavours; not something you want to do.

There is only one alternative to slow cooking: buy (frozen) baby octopuses. Marinate them for a few hours, grill them for 2 minutes and enjoy with a glass of wine or a nice cold beer.

What You Need

  • 6 Baby Octopuses
  • For the Marinade
    • Neutral Oil
    • Soy Sauce
    • Sweet Soy Sauce (Kecap Manis)
    • Fresh Ginger
    • One Garlic Glove
    • Teaspoon of Cumin
    • Tablespoon of Chilli Bean Sauce (Toban Djan)
    • Water (optional)
  • Chinese or Japanese pickles

What You Do

Clean the octopuses and remove the beak. Grate the ginger, chop the garlic and combine with the other ingredients. You’re looking for a powerful marinade with lots of chilli and (sweet) soy sauce. Allow the octopuses to marinate for a few hours.
Heat your grill, dry the octopus and grill for 2*1 minute. We prefer using a non-stick contact grill. Cut of the mantle and slice the tentacles in two. Serve on a warm plate with pickles and share.

Cod with Bleu d’Auvergne

Bleu d’Auvergne is amongst our favourite cheeses. It’s creamy, semi-hard, moist, powerful, pungent and not too salty. It was created around 1850 in France when a farmer combined cow milk curd with the mould of rye bread. He also noticed that the cheese benefits from increased aeration using needles (similar to the process used when making Stilton cheese). Nowadays Bleu d’Auvergne is a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), just like the other excellent cheeses from that region (for example Saint-Nectaire and Cantal).
For some reason Bleu d’Auvergne combines extremely well with cod. We tried other combinations, experimented with adding butter, cream or crème fraîche but we always return to this one. It’s a tribute to both the fish and the cheese.

Wine Pairing

The combination may be very specific; wine pairing is not too difficult. In general a fairly present, white wine will be great choice. Could be a Verdejo from Spain, a mildly oaked Chardonnay or a glass of your favourite white wine. No reason to open a bottle of Chablis; the flavours are too bold for a really elegant wine.

What You Need

  • Skinless Cod Loin
  • Bleu d’Auvergne (preferable mature)
  • Olive Oil

What You Do

Heat a heavy cast iron skillet through and through, add olive oil, dry the cod with kitchen paper and fry on the firm side (where the skin used to be) until it’s nice and golden. Flip the fish, reduce the heat and start adding chunks of cheese. It will melt, but make sure you still have these blue bits in there. Baste the fish with the melting cheese. Check the cuisson of the cod (the fish must be opaque and flaky) and serve on a warm plate.

  • Cod with Bleu d’Auvergne ©cadwu
  • Blue d'Auvergne ©cadwu

Langoustine

Such a delicious starter! Perhaps it makes you think of Italy or France. A Plateau de Fruit de Mer, with oysters, shrimps, lobster, clams, periwinkles and langoustines.  The name sounds French, so perhaps the langoustine is local to the Mediterranean Sea? Not really.
Its Latin name (Nephrops norvegicus) is a nice indication of its habitat. Langoustines live in the North-Eastern Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea from Norway to Portugal. The langoustine-catch is very important for the Scottish fishing industry.

So why is it that so few people in countries around the North Sea enjoy langoustines? Difficult to prepare? Difficult to eat?

Let’s start with how to eat a langoustine. You begin by pulling away the head and claws, then you squeeze the belly to crack the shell. Start from the belly side and peel away the shell. Then de-vein by running a sharp knife along the back and remove the black vein (the intestinal tract). With a lobster cracker and a lobster curette you remove the meat from the claws. A bit of extra work, but it’s truly delicious.

So they’re easy to eat and, see below, very easy to prepare.

Wine pairing

We enjoyed a glass of Château Pajzos Tokaj Furmint 2019. This dry, white wine made from the well-known Hungarian Furmint grape is fresh, clean and slightly floral. It supports the langoustine beautifully.
In general we would suggest a white, clean, dry wine. It could be a German Riesling, a Sauvignon Blanc (a French Sancerre for instance) or an unoaked Chardonnay.

What You Need

  • 6 Langoustines (preferably fresh)
  • Mixed Salad
  • Olive Oil and Vinegar
  • (home-made) Mayonnaise

What You Do

Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Some chefs add salt or lemon. No need for this. Add the langoustines and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Make sure you don’t overcook them. Smaller ones (like the ones we bought) require no more than 3 minutes. Remove from the pan and use a colander to drain them. We like to cool them quickly with a splash of cold water, to stop the cooking process. The meat must be moist and soft, not firm and rubbery. Leave the langoustines on a plate with kitchen paper while making a simple dressing. Toss some salad with the dressing.  Serve the warm langoustines with the salad and a generous helping of mayonnaise.

Langoustine ©cadwu
Langoustine ©cadwu

Lentils with Cod and Cilantro

Lentils are healthy, easy to work with, not expensive, nutritious and high in fiber, protein and iron. Lentils have been around for a long time, so you would expect lentils to be popular, but for some reason they are not. Lentils can be used to prepare soups, salads, dahl, burgers, curry, biscuits (sablés) and so much more.
The three basic types are Green or Brown lentils, Red lentils and Black or Beluga lentils. Red lentils are often dehusked and then split, making them perfect for cooking soup.

In most cases we prefer Du Puy lentil from Sabarot because of their great taste and the fact that they hold their beautiful shape, even when cooked. Sabarot also produces lentil flour; ideal for biscuits, pancakes and waffles.

Beware of fake Du Puy lentils! They have names like ‘Le Puy lentils’ or ‘Dupuis lentils’. All nasty marketing. The real Du Puy lentils come with an Appellation d’Origine Controlee (Protected Designation of Origin).

Wine Pairing

We very much enjoyed a glass of Spanish Verdejo. In our case a bottle of Monteabellón Rueda 2019. In general wines made from the Verdejo grape combine very well with fish. The wine comes with the right acidity, giving freshness to the wine. It has floral aromas typical for the Verdejo grape. You may also recognize the aromas of banana and exotic fruit.

What You Need

  • Shallot
  • Olive Oil
  • Cilantro Seeds
  • Green, Du Puy or Beluga Lentils
  • Mild Fish Stock
  • Cod
  • Butter
  • Fresh Cilantro
  • White Pepper

What You Do

Chop the shallot (seize lentil) and glaze gently in olive oil. In the mean time check the lentils for small pebbles; wash them. Once the shallot is glazed, add the lentils and the crushed cilantro seeds. Heat for a few minutes, as you would do with risotto rice. Add the mild fish stock and leave to simmer on low heat for approximately 20 minutes, depending on the size (and your preference of course). In parallel fry the cod in butter in a non-stick pan. Just before the lentils are ready, add half of the finely cut cilantro to the lentils and mix.
Timing is all. The lentils should be cooked, all liquid evaporated and absorbed and the cod just done. Meaning the cod is opaque and the flakes can be separated easily. And overcooked meaning you can see those nasty small white bits of egg white and the fish becomes dry.
Serve the cod on top of the lentils and sprinkle some cilantro over the lentils and cod. Maybe add a touch of white pepper.

PS In case you think cilantro tastes like soap, feel free to replace the fresh cilantro with parsley. Cilantro seeds do not trigger the soap-like taste.

Red Mullet in Miso

It’s Tuesday morning and we are on our way to our favourite fish monger. No doubt we will be inspired by the fresh fish and seafood on offer. It all looks delicious and yummy, especially the red mullet looks wonderful. It’s such a beautiful fish; red, nearly crimson, with a lovely taste and a very delicate skin. There are actually two very similar kinds, the striped red mullet (rouget de roche) and the red mullet or goatfish (rouget de vase). Don’t worry too much, just go for it.

We will marinate the fillets in miso and then enjoy on Sunday evening as a starter. This technique is called Saikyo Yaki. Best to use is Saikyo miso which is a white, slightly sweet, low sodium miso from Kyoto. The marinated fish is grilled and served with pickled ginger. Originally a way to preserve the fish, it’s now much liked because of the umami and the intriguing combination of flavours and aromas.
We use a standard low sodium white miso and add a bit of sake. This makes the mixture easier to use and supports the flavour.

Sake Pairing

Best served with dry sake. We bought a bottle of  traditional Gekkeikan sake. This is a medium bodied, fresh sake with light floral aromas. In general you’re looking for a touch of acidity, freshness and not too much alcohol.

What You Need

  • Two Fillets of Red Mullet
  • White Miso (preferable with less salt)
  • Sake
  • Pickled Cucumber
  • Karashi (Japanese mustard, optional)

What You Do

Start five days in advance. Mix the white miso with sake, creating a thinner mixture. It must coat the fish for a few days, so don’t make it too thin. Put the fillets in a shallow plate and cover the fillets with the mixture making sure the fish is fully coated. Cover the plate with foil and transfer to the fridge. Check on a daily basis if the fish is still covered.
Using a small spoon carefully remove most of the miso. Rinse the fish with water and dry with kitchen paper. The white flesh should now be slightly orange. Heat a non-stick frying pan until warm, but not hot, through and through. If too hot, the fish will burn. We set our induction hob to 6 (where 9 is the maximum). Add a generous amount of olive oil. Fry the fillets on the skin side and try to keep the fish moving. This way the delicate skin will remain in tact. Turn and fry the meat side, also for 1 or 2 minutes. Serve on a warm plate with pickles and perhaps karashi.

Pasta with Sage

We love using wonderful Mediterranean herbs such as basil, thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, oregano, saffron and tarragon. So we couldn’t resist buying a large bunch of sage and cooking this very tasteful, simple and uplifting starter. Sage has been around for many, many years and is an essential ingredient in many countries, both for medicinal and culinary purposes. Its taste is somewhat soapy, with a touch of acidity, a little bitterness, subtle eucalyptus and slightly peppery. Did we mention unique?
Preferably use fresh, thin pasta or Japanese udon, lots of butter and your best olive oil when preparing this dish.

Wine Pairing

We enjoyed our pasta with a glass of Bianco di Custoza 2020, made by Monte del Frà from Italy. It is a well-balanced, dry white wine, with a fruity nose. Its colour is straw yellow, with pale green highlights. In general you’re looking for a light, aromatic dry white wine.

What You Need

  • Pasta
  • Butter
  • Bunch of Sage
  • Olive Oil
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Black Pepper

What You Do

Melt the butter in a large pan, devein and chop the leaves, add the sage to the butter, stir. The butter should embrace the flavours and aromas of the sage. When the mixture is nearly ready (this will take only a few minutes) cook the pasta. Grate some fresh Parmesan cheese. Keep a glass of the cooking liquid of the pasta, drain the paste, add it to the pan, mix, add some olive oil, mix, add a spoonful or two of the cooking liquid and make sure the pasta is fully coated with sage, butter and oil. Perhaps some black pepper. Garnish with Parmesan Cheese and serve on a warm plate.

Omelet with Winter Truffle

Black truffles are harvested from November to March, so be extravagant and buy one before the season ends. When buying a truffle, please ask if it’s okay to smell them, because the aroma will tell you everything you need to know about the quality.
Black truffles combine really well with a warm purée of potatoes, with scallops, risotto and everything eggs. We used our truffle to make one of the simplest and tastiest truffle dishes ever: an omelet with truffle and Parmesan cheese.
If you store a black truffle for a day or so, then please store it in a small box with some rice and an egg. The rice will prevent the truffle of becoming wet and the egg will embrace the aromas of the truffle and become a treat in its own right.

Wine Pairing

A not too complex white wine goes very well with this omelet, best would be a classic Pinot Blanc or Riesling from the Alsace region (for instance produced by Kuentz-Bas). Think fruity aromas, floral characteristics, minerality and a touch of acidity and sweetness.

What You Need

  • 2 Eggs
  • Butter
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • 10 grams or (budget permitting) more Black Truffle
  • White Pepper

What You Do

Clean the truffle if necessary. Take a fairly small iron skillet and make sure the pan is warm through and through but not hot. Using a fork (a spoon is even better) whisk the two eggs together. Add butter to the pan and wait until it is melted. It should not change colour or sizzle. An omelet should not be fried; the bottom must remain yellow. Add the whisked egg to the pan and wait until the egg is beginning to set. Check the consistency with your fingers. There is no alternative to baveuse! Take your time.
Serve the omelet on a warm dish with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese, white pepper and grated black truffle.

Chioggia Beet Salad

An elegant Starter

What better way to start a nice long dinner than a dish that is light, colourful, surprising and refreshing? A Consommé of Yellow Tomatoes for instance? Or Scallops with Winter Truffle? Or would you prefer a salad made with Bietola da orto tonda di Chioggia? Sounds exotic, but actually it’s a salad made with Chioggia beet: a delicious beet with deep pink and white spirals. It originates from Italy or, to be more precise, from the coastal town of Chioggia, not far from Venice. When cooking the beet its colours fade, creating an even more enticing dish.

Another forgotten vegetable that is worth remembering when you do your Christmas shopping.

Wine Pairing

The dressing comes with firm acidity, balanced by the sweetness of the beet and the spring onion. Wine pairing is a not straightforward because of this combination. Our suggestion would be a Sauvignon Blanc. We enjoyed a glass of Domaine La Tour Beaumont Haut-Poitou Sauvignon Blanc 2019. It has clear fruity and citrus notes and it is well balanced with a good combination of freshness and roundness.

What You Need

  • One Chioggia Beet
  • Excellent Olive Oil
  • White Wine Vinegar
  • Spring Onion (or Scallion)
  • White Pepper

What You Do

The day before wash the beetroot and wrap in aluminium foil. Leave in the oven on 180° Celsius or 355° Fahrenheit for 60+ minutes. Cool and store in the refrigerator.
The next day peel the beet and use a vegetable slicer (or mandoline) to make ridges. This will not only make the dish look more inviting, it will also enhance the taste given there is more coated surface and more air when chewing it. Make a simply, relatively acidic dressing with olive oil and vinegar. Thinly slice the spring onion; best to use the green part only. Test a small slice of beet with the dressing and adjust when necessary. Perhaps some fresh white pepper? If you’re happy with the combination, toss the slices with the dressing making sure everything is nicely coated. Plate up and sprinkle the sliced spring onion on top of it.

Salad of Chioggia Beet ©cadwu
Salad of Chioggia Beet ©cadwu