Category Archives: Sauces

Women and chocolate

chocolatenapolean

A moment of irritating indecision.  A moment of regret.

I am in a coffee shop/patisserie in Berlin.  I have been walking and walking and walking and sightseeing and sightseeing and am ready to sit, rest and refresh.  There is a lineup at the counter and as I wait, I spot the most incredible pastry, drizzled with glossy ganache, filled with chocolate cream and some sort of rich looking custard.  I immediately covet it, but the shop is lined with mirrors and as I look up, a solitary lady of “a certain age”, in the corner catches my eye.  She is sitting at a tiny marble topped table, ignoring her cup of coffee and avidly eating this very pastry with chin-quivering, unrestrained gusto.  And she is very, very — chubby.  I DO NOT want to be that lady so much that I order my double espresso, pay for it, drink it quickly at the counter and continue on my way.

And I’m still annoyed when I think about that moment of self denial that was occasioned by irrationality and false impressions and years and years of conditioning.  It’s a small thing, an unremarkable, trivial incident, but it was a lesson in how not to think for yourself, how not to be yourself.  Surely not enjoying that chocolate-drenched pastry was just as foolish as scoffing down five them would have been.  And, yes, it is a feminist issue.

chocolatefeminism

Almost everyone loves to eat chocolate, but for a long time, it was deemed a “sin” which was linked mainly to women.  It was a perceived link — “women plus chocolate equals sexual bliss” — that really has no basis in either history or science.  It is a link, in fact, that has been perpetrated by the market place, a way to sell chocolate to both men and women.

Chocolate was thought of as not only naughty, but fattening and unhealthy and eating chocolate was equated with self indulgence of the very worst kind; it was something that was done behind closed doors because of the dire consequences that awaited.  Fortunately that idea has changed over the last couple of years because of the discovery of “flavonoids”, those chemical compounds that are known for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities. Flavonoids (actually flavonols, in chocolate) are good for your cardiovascular system and chocolate, at least the dark kind, is full of them. (They’re also in apples, tea, onions, cranberries and — whoo hoo — red wine, apparently.)

Anyway, on February 5th, I am going to be making my way down to Liuna Station to upload my flavonol quota with absolutely no regrets.  The event that I am attending is called “Chocolate Fest” — “The 11th Annual Chocolate Fest and Silent Auction”, to be precise, and it is a benefit for SACHA, the Hamilton Sexual Assault Centre. 

chocolatefest

The chocolate fest is described as “an elegant evening of chocolate treats from Hamilton and area premier chocolatiers, bakeries and restaurants” — places such as Weils of Westdale, Beanermunkey, Denningers, Hotti Biscotti — for a complete list of the over 20 local businesses, check out the website at http://sacha.ca/events/chocolate-fest/chocolate-fest-bakeries

SACHA “supports survivors of sexual assaults while working to end violence in our community.” The organization bills itself as a feminist, non-profit, community based group of women, guided by anti racist and anti-oppressive values.  SACHA volunteers work to provide services to people who have experienced sexual violence at any point in their lives.  The organization provides education, advocacy and coalition building, community partnerships and activism and works toward the equitable inclusion of all women.  If you feel that you need help from SACHA, you should know that all inquiries are absolutely private and confidential.  For an overview of SACHA’s programs and resources check out their website http://sacha.ca/

I think it’s very clever of SACHA to have taken a tongue-in-cheek look at the stereotyping of “women who lust for chocolate” and I hope you will join me in an evening of self indulgence and good cheer on February 5th.

And, in the meantime, here’s a divinely decadent hot fudge sauce that you can keep in the refrigerator.  Just warm it up in the microwave before pouring it over ice cream or cake, or whatever (or whomever), pleases your fancy. Eat it happily all at once, or in occasional little spoonfuls whenever you feel the need to treat yourself.

Hot Fudge Sauce

from Gourmet magazine, February 2004.

Ingredients:chocolatesauce

2/3 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

1/4 tsp salt

6 oz fine quality bittersweet chocolate finely chopped

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 tsp vanilla

Method:

1)  Bring cream, corn syrup, sugar, cocoa, salt and half of chocolate to a boil in a 1 – 1 1/2 quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring until chocolate is melted.

2) Reduce heat and cook at a low boil, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

3)  Add butter, vanilla and remaining chocolate and stir until smooth.  Cool sauce to warm before serving.

My Notes:

Can be kept in the refrigerator for a week in an airtight container.

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Still Life with Red Peppers

cascataview

Kim Jeejeebhoy, head chef at Carlisle’s Cascata Bistro, likes to compare making a meal to painting a picture.

“Use simple, good quality ingredients and the perfect colours will come together effortlessly.  It all depends on the mood.”

It was a revealing remark that came to my mind on Monday night as I watched her and her sous chef Rosie deftly preparing a creamy roasted red pepper sauce. The vivid bright red colour of the sauce was toned down a bit as the cream was added to the reduction, making a silky coral ribbon that was laid over the stuffed turkey breast. The ambiance of the autumnal season was suggested in both the content and the appearance of the food and plating.

Jeejeebhoy jokes that her maiden name was Sinclair, but she changed it because it was too hard to spell!

She has been working at Cascata Bistro for about a year and a half now.  Her previous careers were in banking and working as a law clerk, but now she obviously has found her métier.

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Chef Kim Jeejeebhoy and owner Angela Checchia

“I had a cooking grandmother,” she recalls, “and I started out working in restaurants and catering. I tried the other jobs and then said, ‘to heck with that’ and got my chef’s certificate from Liaison College.”

One of the things she likes about working at Cascata is the latitude given to her to design menus around seasonal, local market products. The menus are changed weekly — sometimes daily — depending on what’s fresh and available.

“The menu is Italian inspired,” she says, “and there are always a couple of pastas. I also make a lot of fish dishes — a cioppino (a tomatoey seafood stew which originated in San Franciso) which is very popular and I serve a lot of grouper.  There is a very popular dish of grilled scallops with vegetables and salad — I think many people are happy not to have the carbo’ overload.”

“But,”  she laughs, “I also make plenty of steak with mushroom ravioli.”

Jeejeebhoy and the owner of the restaurant, Angela Checchia, present a seamlessly working duo. The whippet-thin Checchia is an athlete known for her prowess in the triathlon.

Cascata bathroom“It’s a race involving three disciplines,” she explains, “swimming, running and cycling. Nowadays I am primarily a cyclist and we have a Cascata cycling group and one of the bathrooms in the restaurant is decorated with a bike motif.”

She says that she grew up in the industry and has been working in restaurants since she was 15. Still, her first career was as a clinician working with children with autism.  Two and a half years ago she saw the building in Carlisle come up for lease and it seemed to speak to her.  The structure is a century old home which was at one time an unsuccessful butchery and then a bakery. It is a large home and the spacious restaurant is divided into three rooms plus patio.  Still, the kitchen is small and Checcia says that although they could seat 70 people, they could never serve that many at once.

She tentatively looked into getting the licence thinking, “I wonder who would manage it — certainly not me.”

But desire and determination overcame her qualms and now she’s the sole owner of this incorporated business.   She notes in a Globe and Mail business section interview,

“With a strong partner in life, my husband Chad Smith, I’m able to balance the needs of life and work. Like most small business owners, I wear many hats. I couldn’t do it without the support of my great team, which includes a head chef, sous chef, servers and back-of-the-house staff who all play crucial roles in Cascata’s success. A business like this cannot thrive without the right people.

We love to design a chef-inspired menu every day and events like our wine and beer-makers’ dinners, live music and Sunday group cycling keep us active and engaged with our guests.”

And here’s the recipe for that red pepper sauce. At our Go Cooking session it was used on turkey, but it would be wonderful on all sorts of grilled meat and poultry.

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Rosie purées the peppers.

Red Pepper Cream Sauce

from Chef Kim Jeejeebhoy, Cascata Bistro

Ingredients:

1 large jar roasted red peppers with 1/3 liquid

500 ml. 35 % cream

1 tsp minced garlic

splash of white wine

salt and pepper to taste

Method:

1) Add all ingredients to saucepan and bring them to a boil.

2) Simmer and reduce until thickened.

3) Purée sauce and pass through a sieve.  (The sauce may need further thickening by placing back on the heat and reducing.

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Merry Wanderers of the Night

manohealthy

The vegetables and fruit that we see before us, glow like brightly colored jewels.  We know that they will taste wonderful.  We know that they are nutritionally healthy choices.  We know that our government agencies have passed them all as being non-toxic.  But, if you are like me, somewhere, lurking deep down in the consciousness is a small twinge of suspicion.  As a non-scientist, I wonder — can mistakes be made?  Exactly how much poison am I consuming when I eat these beautiful berries or tomatoes?  Does it matter?

We really shouldn’t have to worry about such things, and so we buy organic when we can find it, hoping that we can trust the labels.  But just imagine how much better it would be if it were not necessary to use huge amounts of pesticides or herbicides or poisonous substances to grow food.  I, for one would feel more secure and would be willing to pay more.

Which brings me to ManoRun Organic Farm and the premise of “restoration agriculture.”

ManoRun Farm is in Copetown and is owned by Chris Krucker and Denise Trigatti.  On the farm, Krucker and Trigatti are farming by using a different model from conventional agriculture.  They are farming without using pesticides and herbicides and producing vegetables, beef, eggs, jam and pickles.

manolandscape

Their farm is modelled on an experimental farm in Wisconsin called New Forest Farm.  New Forest Farm was founded in 1994 by Mark and Jen Shepard and is a working farm that is based upon Mark Shepard’s book called “Restoration Agriculture”.  In “Restoration Agriculture”, Shepard explains how annual monocropping (that is, the conventional way of farming where only one crop is grown on huge areas of land) produces nearly all of the grain, meat vegetable and processed foods consumed today.  These conventional practices require giant machinery, tilling and the application of chemical pesticides and fertilizers resulting in the eradication of biodiversity, the erosion of the topsoil and the contribution of 30% of global carbon emissions — more than from any other source.  The goal of restoration agriculture — or permaculture or agroforestry or eco-agriculture — whatever you want to call it — is to move away from monocropping by designing and planting perennial ecosystems.  By doing this, carbon dioxide is removed from the air, habitats are provided for wildlife, food is produced, soil erosion prevented and we begin the creation of ecologically sustainable human habitats.

Krucker, who has had Shepard as a visitor to his farm, notes that this is really a very old idea that has been around for centuries.

In a very simplified manner, it works like this:  ManoRun has been planting trees to return the land to the original forest. The land was a type of forest known as “oak savannah”, a lightly forested grassland in which oak is the dominant tree.  But this will be a forest that can be farmed. The tall trees will form an overstorey canopy of nut producing branches (protein); there will be a mid-level storey of fruits; then lower level grapes, berry bushes and vines.  Livestock will graze under the canopy.  Open and exposed to sunlight, the grassy forest will be ideal for biodiversity and in the open areas, vegetable crops will grow.  It will be a naturally integrated plant, animal, and food production area.

Are you feeling skeptical?  Sound like “pie in the sky”?  Too inefficient?  Too expensive to maintain? A pretty mid-summer’s night dream?

Likely you will have a lot of questions about how this actually works  — and I certainly know that I do.  Fortunately both Chef Ken LeFebour of Dundas’s Nellie James Gourmet to Go and Brantford artist Dave Hind have been won over to the Shephard/Krucker/Trigatti ideal and have become passionate advocates of the restoration agriculture plan.  They are eager to help spread the word and tell the story and on August 13th, at the farm, there will be an evening of explanation and entertainment called “The Oak Savannah — a Story told in Five Courses”.

manochefken

Chef Ken LeFebour, Nellie James Gourmet Food to Go

This will encompass a moveable feast in which guests will be treated to food created by LeFebour which will be about 89 percent organic.  Our Go Cooking audience is well aware of the quality of LeFebour’s cuisine, but a description of the various courses is on the poster for the evening.  The chef describes the meal as a five course feast which will include appetizers, 3 main courses and desserts.  There will be several stations around the farm and diners will be sitting at small tables, enjoying the food while they learn how the principles of permaculture are applied at the farm.

manohindbarn

Model of Hind’s “Raising the Barn”

Hind is a very well known metal sculptor who designates himself as a “thingmaker.”  His artwork “Raising the Barn” was selected as the winner in the Hamilton Farmers’ Market District Public Art Competition.  His painting on aluminum of an ancient oak tree that stands near ManoRun, has been used in the design of the poster for this event.  Hind works with recycled materials and a few years ago, along with the interns on the farm, began building a fully functional, three season “cottage” out of re-cycled materials.  The “cabin”, as he calls it will be ready to be shown at a special evening on September 20th, but on August 13th,  he will be helping Chris tell the story and demonstrating several different artworks that he and the farm’s interns have created.

Krucker says that they have never had an event of this size on the farm and also notes that it would have been impossible without the help of the interns.  He is very pleased to announce that Flat Rock Cellars will be providing the wine for the feast — five different kinds, one to go with each different course.  The evening starts at 6 p.m. and Krucker says dress sensibly — it’s a farm, the ground is not level and forget the high heels.

I hope you can join us for a lovely and very civilized way to spend a midsummer’s evening.  For more information and updates check out https://www.facebook.com/events/677906322296793/?context=create&source=49)

And here’s something to put on those beautiful tomatoes that are now in the markets.

Green Goddess Dressing

recipe from Epicurious

Ingredients:

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsleymanogoddess

1/2 cup chopped fresh chives

2 tbsp. chopped scallion greens

1 1/2 tsp. anchovy paste

1 tsp. white wine vinegar

1/2 tsp minced garlic

2 lb tomatoes cut into wedges

Method:

Purée all ingredients except tomatoes in a food processor until pale green and smooth.  Thin with water if necessary.  Season tomatoes with salt and pepper and drizzle with dressing.

My Notes:

This looks as wonderful as it tastes.

manoposter

 

 

To market, to market

mustard 002Hamilton may be known as the city of waterfalls, but I think it might better be dubbed “the city of markets.”

All of our indoor and outdoor favorites are already open now or are soon to be in business — not to even mention our fabulous year-round downtown market. I am feeling as if I am in market heaven with all of this local bounty (along with the Nations Fresh store which is available for more exotic fare). But, I’m going to suggest that you do have a look at the new Mustard Seed Co-op on York Street at Dundurn (http://mustardseed.coop/), because I finally got in there last weekend and it was an eye-opener.

The Mustard Seed has been open since January, 2014 and it is already a resounding local success story. It’s an interesting concept that is new to Hamilton. First of all, the Co-op is dedicated to sourcing local and organic products and fair trade goods. Memberships are sold ($100) and members receive discounts on most of the products in the store, as well as access to weekly specials. The store is an exercise in democracy in the sense that it is owned by its members and they get to vote on management decisions. And prices are kept as low as possible: for instance, no credit card payments are accepted — payments must be made in cash, by debit or cheque — since credit card companies charge a 2% interest fee. There are also a few intriguing perks, such as a sustainable delivery service using cargo bikes for certain parts of the city, for a $5 fee. And soon to come: The store has its own kitchen and they are planning classes in such “down home” subjects as yogurt making, canning and preserving, fermenting basics and creating soap and other natural cleaning products.

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Be aware that you will probably spend quite a bit of time in the store the first few times that you visit because you will find yourself compulsively reading labels. Most of the produce is tagged with sources of origin — not just “Ontario” but Grimsby, or Beamsville, for example, and there are usually two prices — one for members, the other for the general public. And there are all sorts of products that you can’t find easily in regular grocery stores. Here are just a few of the unusual items that I stumbled upon in my initial foray:

Verjus — Verjus (or verjuice) is a sort of liquor (non-alcoholic) made from pressing unripe grapes. mustard 007(“Sour grapes” made happy?) It is used most often in salad dressings, sauces and marinades as an alternative acid for wine. I have always had to go to the Niagara region to buy it. This verjus is distributed by Niagara Cuisine and comes from a vineyard in Vineland.

 

 

Kozlik’s Mustard — Made by Anton Kozlik since 1948 and sold out of the St. Lawrence Market. I used to buy this in Toronto and it is extraordinarily tasty. There are all sorts of flavours available, from maple to Bordeaux to Dijon.

 

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Hot Sauce — I noticed two hot sauces that I’ve never tried before, both made in Hamilton. (Who knew?)

 

 

One is Cooksville Chipolte(that’s how they spell it) Sauce made locally and sold all over Canada since 1974. It was created by a University of Guelph student in Cooksville and soon production expanded, there was a move to Hamilton and gardens were cultivated to over 160 varieties of hot peppers from around the world. And there is also Dawson’s Hot Sauce, made in Hamilton by Brodie Dawson since 2013. The sauce contains no preservatives and claims to be made with the highest quality of produce.

Well, move over Tabasco, I’m trying them both!

And I also found some very fresh-looking sorrel, which I usually have to trek to Burlington to buy; a whole bin of avocados poised at that singular perfect moment just between rock-hard and “ugh-squishy”; and a very pleasant counter person told me that fiddleheads should be in this week.

So, why would you go here instead of to the larger downtown market? Well, the hours are more convenient and the parking is easier. And, I suppose, although I don’t really know if this is true, the prices are better if you have a membership. Shopping in this store is also a very heartening experience. It has a warm and welcoming ambiance and much attention has been paid to aesthetics: Mustard Seed co-founder Emma Cubitt is an architect (Invizij Architects) and has designed the space with an eye to an ecologically-conscious use of materials such as old cooler doors from a former grocery store as interior windows and salvaged wood cladding on both the exterior and interior. But really, there’s no need to choose. I’m going to make the most of living in “Market-ville” by exploring a different venue every other week all summer.

So here’s a recipe for those avocados. I hope there are some left.

Avocado Aiöli (garlic mayonnaise)
from Gourmet magazine, May 1988

Ingredients:
2 large garlic cloves, halved lengthwiseavocadoaiq
1/4 tsp salt
1 firm-ripe avocado
1 large egg yolk at room temperature
1 – 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil
cayenne to taste

Method:
1) Mince and mash the garlic to a paste with the salt.
2) Pit and peel the avocado.
3) Purée the avocado with the garlic paste in a food processor, and add the egg yolk and one tablespoon of the lemon juice.
4) With the motor running add the oils in a slow stream, stopping the motor occasionally to scrape down the sides.
5) Season the aiöli with the cayenne, salt, black pepper and up to one tablespoon of the remaining lemon juice.

My Notes:
The aiöli may be served at room temperature on cooked vegetables but it is also wonderful on grilled or poached fish, such as trout or salmon or halibut steaks or even cod. You can make the sauce up to 8 hours in advance and keep it chilled, with its surface covered with plastic wrap.

mustardavo

Italian Food and Amore …

imagesCAYIU9OZMichael Gris thinks of himself as “a really lucky guy.”   The part owner and executive chef of Romano’s Ristorante had almost followed another career path altogether.  As a student at Carleton University, he had finished his degree in psychology and was planning to continue on to graduate school.  And then, during a summer job at the Burlington Golf and Country Club, he met his future wife.  As he tells it,

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Mr. and Mrs. Gris

“She was working in the restaurant business and, when we began dating, I put my education on hold.  I never went back to school and my whole career as a chef is thanks to her.”

Chef-dom (and love!) won out easily over academia and Gris changed course.  He completed his chef’s training at Liaison College and, upon graduation, got a job at the Knollwood Golf Club in Ancaster where he spent seven years.  His background is Italian and he is so familiar with that cuisine that you might say Italian cooking is in his genes.  So when his partners found Romano’s for sale, he knew that the right plan was to go with it.

Gris’ culinary inclinations had started in his childhood.  Early on he developed an obsession for watching the television series on PBS starring Julia Child and Jacques Pepin.  He cites his mom — an excellent home cook — as his earliest mentor — but also, his friend Mike Maloney at the Burlington Golf and Country Club, as another great teacher.

He still loves cooking as a pastime, for friends and family, noting that it’s “a whole other ballgame” compared to doing it professionally.  Being a professional chef is “a tough gig” and there is no element of recreation about it.  You don’t have to take home cooking so seriously and it’s so much more personal, he says.

In fact, that’s one reason why he anticipates with pleasure his participation in our Go Cooking sessions.  He knows that he’s working with people who are avid home cooks and he has the feeling that he’s really in his element.  The worst mistake that home cooks can make, he believes, is to betray a lack of confidence.  He finds that people often tell him, “I can’t make it look like that.”  His advice is to be brave and stick with it, try and try again, and things will work out eventually.

As a versatile master in the kitchen, Gris claims to have  no particular specialties, although he adheres to the mantra of fresh, local ingredients and seasonal menus   Still, there are certain staples in his repertoire — rotisserie roasted chicken, simply prepared with lemon, garlic and herbs, for instance.  He loves duck and is glad that  it is now possible to buy just the breast meat off the bone so that the time consuming and labour intensive butchering of the bird is no longer necessary.  To cook the duck breast easily, he suggests, just make sure it is 100 percent thawed, salt it, sear it quickly and roast it in a 365 degree oven (the interior temperature should be higher than 170 degrees).  Then let it rest for 20 minutes before cutting into the succulent meat.

grisCreativity, passion and patience are the basic ingredients for success in the professional kitchen, according to Gris, but he also believes that it’s important to give back.  Searching for a way to make a meaningful contribution, Gris found Hamilton’s Mark Preece House, a non-profit organization which provides accessible and affordable accommodation for families whose loved ones are critical care patients at Hamilton area hospitals.  Now, every Tuesday night at 6 p.m., the entire Gris family prepares dinner at the institution. He approaches his volunteer work with a typical attention to detail:

“It’s not always Italian,” he says, “Sometimes people are staying there for quite a few weeks, so we try to change the menu up.”

We have no recipes yet from Michael, but here’s a recipe for an easy vinegar-based sauce with apples to use if you try the roasted duck breasts.

E. Hujer

Apple and Honey Sauce for Duck Breasts

loosely adapted from “The Cuisine of Normandy” by Marie -Blanche de Broglie

Ingredients:

fat from roasting the duck breastsduck breasts
1/3 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

2 cups duck stock or rich chicken stock

6 tablespoons butter

4 apples, peeled, cored and quartered

lemon juice

1 and 1/2 cups sugar

about 1/3 cup tap water

3/4 cup ice water

Method:

Deglaze the roasting pan with the vinegar.  Add the honey and stock, stir and reduce the liquid to about 1 cup.

Whisk the butter into the sauce a tablespoon at a time.

Trim the apple quarters into ovals and rub with lemon juice.

In a saucepan, combine the sugar with enough tap water to moisten it.  Cook over low heat until it reaches a deep golden colour.  Quickly add the ice water (watch out, it will splatter.)  Add the apples and cook until they are tender.

To serve, arrange the duck breasts on a heated serving platter, pour the sauce over them and surround them with the caramelized apples.

My Notes:

This is for six duck breasts. which should be a bit rare. I like to use Spys, or some firm, not too sweet, type of apple in the sauce.  It is good to serve with wild rice that adds a sort of nutty flavour to the sweetness.

chickenduck

Happy Spargelzeit!

2spargelzeit

I am fuzzy from jet lag and a trip to Germany — a week in Berlin and a week in Dresden.  My head is full of old masters (plus a lot of mind-blowing contemporary art), I am footsore from walking for miles through castles and train stations and entire baroque villages, and I have consumed my fill of wurst and golden reisling.  All went as expected — however — the most exciting surprise of the trip was — (drumroll, please) —  I found that I had arrived right at the beginning of spargel season!!

Yes, you may well be asking yourself, what the heck is spargel?

It’s asparagus actually, only not quite.

asparagus museum

Carved stone asparagus in a spargel museum.

Spargel, in Germany, is usually white asparagus, that grows within a very short season — from about April 23rd to the end of June.  The season is called spargelzeit and is the highlight of the springtime German foodie calendar.   Tiny villages have festivals and crown asparagus queens.  There are spargel museums and a spargel cycling trail along the spargel-spangled routes of the Saxon countryside. The spargel is valued so much that it is dubbed “white gold” or “edible ivory” by those with a penchant for metaphor.  This asparagus is pale because it is grown in mounds, with soil covering the shoots.  With the lack of exposure to sunlight there is no photosynthesis and the shoots remain white.

The flavour of the white asparagus is softer, milder and sweeter than the green asparagus that we enjoy — I find it almost buttery, but maybe that’s because it’s usually served drenched with butter.  It can be boiled or steamed and served with hollandaise sauce or sprinkled with olive oil or parmesan cheese or coated with mayonnaise.  I actually enjoyed it rolled in an omelette, served with scallops and in a broth with shrimps.  It can also be found on pizza and is often served with ham slices, boiled new potatoes, wiener schnitzel or in crêpes.   There is spargel cream soup, spargel in chive beurre blanc and spargel wrapped in prosciutto.  Superstar chef Susur Lee, apparently, likes to eat it raw. But maybe, just maybe, it is best appreciated on its own, with salt and pepper and lots of  melted butter.

It is possible to get this decadent and luxurious treat in Canada occasionally but it is very expensive.  I haven’t seen any yet, but it may at the market soon. If you find some, you need to know that it must be kept in a moist environment or it goes woody.  The class A spargel is very straight and absolutely white in colour with tightly closed tips.  When buying, always check to see that the cut ends of each stalk are not dried out. And it must be peeled before cooking.

Therein lies the challenge. Unlike green asparagus, where you seek the finest and thinnest stalks, with white asparagus you want the stalks to be thicker so that they can be peeled more easily.  You can use a vegetable peeler or a paring knife and peel from the top down. For cooking, there are tall narrow asparagus cooking pots which allow the shoots to be steamed gently with their tips out of the water. (I always cook my asparagus in an old, tall coffee perk which seems to work pretty well.)  The spargel needs to be cooked longer than green asparagus, because the stalks are thicker.  Maybe even 15 to 20 minutes — keep trying a piece to check it out.

If you are fortunate enough to be served white asparagus in Germany, you should be acquainted with Illustration_Asparagus_officinalis0bcertain traditions.  Spargel etiquette proclaims that one must eat it with a knife and fork no matter how much you’d like to just pick up the spears with your fingers and dip them in the butter.  It is considered very discourteous to ever leave any leftover spargel on your plate.  This is more serious than it sounds because the Germans don’t fool around with meagre portions.  A proper serving is considered to be 500 grams, or one pound per person.  And treat this food with respect.  Spargel is expensive and time consuming to grow and the harvest is small — so it is also considered impolite to ask for more.

The question of wine to go with asparagus is one of the on-going debates for wine writers.  What little I have gleaned, is that reds and oaky chardonnays should be avoided.  Instead, stick to fragrant, light, crispy spring wines.  Sauvignon blancs and pinot grigios are fine, but in Germany I was intent to try the dry (it should say “trocken”) reislings, or a gewürtztraminer or an Austrian grüner veltliner.

Food writer M. F. K. Fisher always opined that you can tell a lot about a people by what they like to eat.  I am gazing at the photos of these pale, phallic spears and still grappling with that question.

Anyway — here’s my favorite easy hollandaise sauce recipe, a great accompaniment for either green or white asparagus.

E. Hujer

AsparagusRECIPE

Quick Hollandaise Sauce

from Craig Claiborne’s “The New York Times Cookbook”

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter

3 egg yolks

2 tbsps. lemon juice

1/4 tsp. salt

pinch of cayenne

Method:

Heat butter to bubbling, but do not brown.  Into an electric blender put egg yolks, lemon juice, salt and cayenne.  Blend on low and add hot butter gradually.  Blend about 15 seconds, until sauce is thickened and smooth.

My Notes:

This makes about a quarter of a cup of sauce but it can be doubled if desired.  Not authentic, but quick, easy and good.

spargelzeit

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