May 19, 2010

Fall in love with asparagus

I love asparagus. Asparagus. That is why I am sharing this romantical vegetable photo with you.

I have fond childhood memories of asparagus. My grandparents grew it in their garden! Everyone should experience the transformation this vegetable undergoes from small stalk to a tall and feathery weed-like grass. Any agrarian metaphors you might use to add meaning to your spiritual and emotional life will not break down with asparagus. Love grows.

And women in love never have to care about eating too much pastry dough. And that is why we will make a tart with our asparagus.

Asparagus and Mushroom Tarts (from Bon Appetit):

1 17.3-ounce package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
12 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, divided
1 pound slender asparagus spears, trimmed, cut on diagonal into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
1/2 cup crème fraîche (if you're running two hours late for brunch, and the only store near you carries a great variety of greek yogurts, just use greek yogurt.)
1/2 cup (packed) coarsely grated Gruyère cheese (about 2 ounces)
Fresh thyme sprigs (for garnish)


Roll out each pastry sheet on work surface to 10-inch square. Cut each into 4 squares. Using small knife, score 1/2-inch border (do not cut through pastry) around inside edges of each square. Arrange squares on 2 rimmed baking sheets. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Sauté until tender and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to large bowl; cool 15 minutes. Add asparagus, chopped thyme, lemon peel, 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to mushrooms. Mix in crème fraîche and cheese. DO AHEAD Filling can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.

(I strongly urge you all to plan your lives around this tart--and make the filling and roll out the dough ahead of time. Maybe you want to go jogging instead. Well, sometimes we make sacrifices for love.)

Position 1 rack in top third and 1 rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 400°F. Mound filling atop pastry squares, leaving 1/2-inch plain border.

Bake tarts 12 minutes. Reverse sheets. Continue to bake tarts until crusts are puffed and golden and filling is cooked through, about 10 minutes longer. Transfer to plates; garnish with thyme sprigs.




May 10, 2010

Celebrating Spring with Soup

Spring Celebration Soup

Here's another quick-and-easy recipe to celebrate the best spring veggies have to offer! It's also another testimony to the brilliance of lime/lemon juice used in conjunction with all kinds of vegetables. It's a great first course (last night it served as the first course to our main entree of grilled elk brats and greenhouse-fresh salad) - it can be casual or fancy! This recipe is adapted from Simply in Season.

Serves 4

4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup green onions, chopped
2 cups carrots, thinly sliced
2 cups asparagus, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup fresh spinach, torn
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 cup swiss or parmesan cheese, shredded

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a soup pot. Add garlic and saute until golden, about 1 minute. Add green onions and carrots and saute 5 minutes. Add asparagus, broth, lemon juice & salt and cook until asparagus is just barely tender (do not overcook). Stir in spinach and parsley and cook an additional 1 minute. Ladle into 4 bowls, garnish with swiss cheese, and celebrate spring!

May 6, 2010

A Pocketful of Asparagus

Once last Spring I was talking to Adriane (the same friend-and-fellow-vegetable-enthusiast who pointed me in the direction of February's Beet Tart). She was up in her garden and had just picked a "pocketful of asparagus." Doesn't that sound simply elegant?

Growing up asparagus was a "special" food (Mom has many of these... "Don't just eat that! It's special.") It was an impressive side she served to guests - but also one of the few foods she would allow us to eat with our fingers. I'm intrigued by this vegetable that can be so fancy, and yet so at home wrapped casually in a bandana and peeking out of a pocket.

That tension was what drove this painting (and that cute vintage hankie I recently found.) Some new tubes of watercolor drove my overeager use of greens... Live and learn...

Sadly, I don't have a photo of this one to share, but my favorite asparagus dish this month was the simplest. Steamed and drizzled with:

Aunt Sue's Dressing for Vegetables
2-3 T. butter
1 T. Dijon mustard (I can't help myself - I use twice that!)
1 1/2 t. lemon juice
1/4 t. salt
1 t. sugar
Melt the butter and combine all ingredients. Serve over cooked vegetables.

We prepared it with my sister, Meg, when she was visiting - it is for special guests, after all - and ate it alongside some broiled salmon and potato pancakes. (Potatoes are a must when Meg is involved.)

Occasionally, I find good things come out of my lack of timeliness. For instance, Asparagus is the April Vegetable of the Month, but if I had posted in April I wouldn't have been able to share with you these photos of Adriane's Asparagus:2010 - growing in her garden this May!