Back in the UK, I’ve noticed that in the media, topics, like buses, come in threes. For instance, I’d flick through an article in the second section of the Guardian: maybe about female circumcision, education-other-than-at-school, or some other equally right-on Guardian topic. Two or three days later, listening to say Women’s Hour on Radio 4, they’d be discussing exactly the same subject, with exactly the same slant. Then the following week, maybe on Channel 4, it would appear yet again.
And so it has been in the world of blogging. On April 24th, Kalba’s blog dropped into my in-box. I complained immediately. It was about asparagus, and I could have written it myself. Not all of it. I’ve never run a restaurant, and I’ve never lived in Norfolk. But like her, I do like green asparagus, the thinner the better: I don’t like the blanched, thick white spears favoured by the French and throughout most of mainland Europe.
Then on the 30th April, Bloggerboy, the writer of my other favourite blog, Welcome Visitor, pitched in with an account of the German love of asparagus. He even convinced me to have another go with the white stuff.
So now it’s my turn to write an asparagus blog. In Mirepoix market yesterday morning there were quite a few asparagus stalls, and I picked the one where I could buy thin and thick green spears, and white too. ‘I’m not too keen on the white spears’, I confided to the stall holder, ‘but I’m sure I must be wrong when you all seem to like them so. How do you like to cook them?’. If I’d expected to have my hand wrung in gratitude at my acknowledgement of his expertise: if I’d expected him to call over his wife to share her culinary tips, I would have been disappointed. What I got was a Gallic shrug. He was mystified by the stupidity of my question. ‘Well, you could use them in tarts, or omelettes. Whatever you like really’. I realised our conversation was at an end.
Luckily, there are recipe books, and there are other blogs. I’ve just tried a suggestion from another blog I enjoy, ‘Chocolate and Zucchini’, which is available in English and French. Asparagus and strawberry tart. A very odd idea indeed, but it works. In fact it was memorably good.
This is what we ate yesterday evening, from Denis Cotter’s wonderful vegetarian book, ‘Paradiso seasons’.
Gratin of Asparagus, Roasted Tomatoes and Gabriel Cheese with Chive and Mustard Cream.
Ingredients – for 2
4 -5 large tomatoes
Salt and pepper, to season
Drizzle of olive oil.
40g. fine breadcrumbs
40 g. Gabriel cheese, finely grated. I can’t get this, unsurprisingly, and maybe you can’t either. Settle for a hard, densely textured cheese.
1 sprig thyme
I tablespoon butter, melted
30 ml. vegetable stock
30 ml. white wine
150 ml. cream
Small bunch of chives, chopped
½ tsp. hot mustard
16 asparagus spears
Heat oven to 190 degrees. Cut tomatoes into 3-4 thick slices each. Place on oven trays lined with baking parchment, season and drizzle with olive oil. Roast until lightly browned and semi-dried – you may need to turn them once.
Mix the breadcrumbs with the thyme, the butter, and most of the cheese. Season.
Boil the stock and the wine until reduced by half. Add the cream and mustard, bring it back to the boil and simmer for 2 – 3 minutes until pouring consistency.
During this time, briefly cook the asparagus.
Heat a grill. On each plate, place 6 slices of tomato, lined up 3 x 2, and cover with 5 asparagus spears. Place a single line of tomatoes on top, then 3 more asparagus spears on top. Spoon a little mustard cream over the top, then finish with a generous sprinkling of the crumble. Cook under a hot grill for 2 – 3 minutes until the cream is bubbling, and the top is crisp and brown. Put remaining cream back on the stove, whisk in the rest of the cheese and chives, and pour round the finished gratins.
Alternatively (and this is more my style), arrange the ingredients in an oven dish instead of individual plates, and bake for 10 minutes until the cream is bubbling and the top is crisped and brown.
This too is a really tasty simple dish, well worth adding to the regular asparagus repertoire.
Um, have you noticed, I still haven’t got round to thinking about those wretched white spears?