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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Asparagus dreams come true with spring's greening

Associated Press

Fresh asparagus is widely available in spring, so now's the time to try those asparagus recipes.

Advertiser library photo

Mountains of asparagus, towering forests of luscious spears. Such out-of-season fantasies pale beside reality as spring greens sprout on market stalls.

For cooks in many part of the country, the "delicacy" becomes an everyday, almost practical veggie, scaled down to juicy platefuls. It's within most people's reach and seems especially appetizing after winter's heavy root fare.

Down-to-earth advocates insist fresh asparagus tastes best when you eat it with your fingers. Chefs are inspired to create special asparagus preparations. When you get tired of eating simple poached asparagus with your fingers, one of the following recipes may pique your palate and send you back to the kitchen.

Chef Ron Siegel of Masa's restaurant in San Francisco likes to play the country flavor of mushrooms against fresh asparagus, in a salad tossed up with a shaving or two of pecorino cheese, balsamic vinegar, some baby salad greens, finely chopped chives and a few sliced, toasted almonds.

Carmen Quagliata, executive chef at Tra Vigne restaurant, St. Helena, Calif., is of Italian descent and has devised a recipe for a warm pecorino cheese and bread pudding with grilled asparagus that he calls Budino di Pecora con asparagi. He says it's a delicious accompaniment to any spring meal.

Carmen Quagliata's Budino di Pecora con asparagi

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 cup grated pecorino cheese, plus a little extra for garnish
  • 1 cup white bread crumbs from a baguette or Italian bread, crusts removed
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper
  • 3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 18 spears of small to medium asparagus, tough ends trimmed and stalks peeled
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coarse sea salt, to taste
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons chopped gaeta or kalamata olives

For Budino: Heat milk and cream just to simmering point. Add pecorino cheese and stir over low flame for 4 minutes. Remove and strain through a fine metal sieve. Discard the cheese solids and save the strained cream liquid. Add the bread crumbs to the warm cream liquid; set aside to allow the crumbs to soften in the cream for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300 F.

Pour the cream mixture, salt and pepper into the egg yolks and gently whisk until thoroughly incorporated. Pour mixture into 6 well greased ramekins or small custard molds; set ramekins into a water bath and bake in oven for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes. (The resting is not imperative, but helps in unmolding the Budino.)

Blanch the asparagus briefly in boiling water. Drain asparagus; place in a bowl; toss with 3 tablespoons olive oil and coarse salt to taste. Grill over hot coals for 2 minutes to just singe the asparagus on one side. Place 3 spears on each of 6 warmed plates.

Run a toothpick or thin knife around outside edges of each ramekin to loosen custard; unmold each on a plate beside asparagus. Garnish with a little more extra-virgin olive oil, chopped olives, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of grated pecorino cheese.

Makes 6 servings.

Gordon Drysdale, restaurateur-chef of Gordon's House of Fine Eats, San Francisco, suggests packaging bundles of plump spears of asparagus in egg roll wrappers, to serve as an appetizer or snack with hollandaise sauce.

Gordon Drysdale's Asparagus Egg Rolls With Hollandaise Sauce

  • 40 spears asparagus, trimmed to 4-inch lengths
  • 8 pieces menlo egg roll wrappers (see note), thawed
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 teaspoons minced shallots
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 bunch mint, julienned
  • 1/2 bunch chervil, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • Hollandaise Sauce (recipe follows)
  • Hard-cooked egg, optional garnish
  • Canola oil for frying

In a large saucepan, bring to boil enough water to cover asparagus; season strongly with kosher salt (the water should taste noticeably salty). Place asparagus in pan and cook until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Remove from cooking water; place on a tray in a single layer and immediately place in the refrigerator to chill.

While asparagus is cooking, prepare the vinaigrette. Soak the minced shallots in the vinegar for about 30 minutes; then drizzle the oil into the vinegar in a slow stream, whisking briskly with a small whisk or fork, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

When ready to wrap asparagus, separate egg roll sheets and lay them out singly on a flat surface. With the point of a sheet toward you, place a bundle of 5 spears diagonally across the sheet away from you, starting just inside the point; fold the tip of the point over the end of the bundle nearest you. Make the roll by folding across the left and the right points, and rolling tightly; finish by brushing beaten egg over the last 1 inch of the top point and folding it over to seal the roll. (Egg rolls can be prepared up to this point one day in advance.)

To cook asparagus egg rolls, fry in 3 or 4 inches of hot canola oil, in a fryer heated to 375 F, or in a deep pan, for 5 minutes or until golden brown. Fry in small batches, two at a time, so oil temperature does not drop abruptly.

Just before serving, toss mint, chervil and cilantro with shallot vinaigrette. Serve asparagus egg rolls with Hollandaise Sauce and the tossed herb-shallot vinaigrette. If desired, grate hard-cooked egg over Hollandaise.

Note: Wrappers for egg rolls, sometimes labeled "egg roll skins" (although there is no egg in the dough), are sold in the refrigerator section of Chinese groceries and Asian food markets in packages of 10 or 25, usually frozen. Menlo is a type of wrapper. Wrappers are about 8-by-8-inches square and paper-thin and it is hard for a home cook to duplicate their translucent thinness and texture. The wrappers should thaw for 3 or 4 hours before they are used. The best are usually imported; avoid thick egg roll skins sometimes sold in Western supermarkets.

Hollandaise Sauce

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 pound butter
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Place water and egg yolks in a stainless steel bowl and place over scalding water. Whisking constantly, cook the yolks until the mixture triples in volume. (It is important to keep whisking and moving the yolks to avoid the possibility of their scrambling.) This process should take about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, slowly melt the butter. When melted, clarify it by skimming the foam (whitish milk solids) off the top; keep warm while preparing the yolks.

When yolks are whisked and ready, wrap a moist towel around the base of the bowl and start to slowly drizzle in the melted butter, whisking constantly, until sauce is thick and creamy. Whisk in lemon juice and zest, and season with salt and pepper. Keep warm until served (holding it over a "bain marie," a pan filled with hot water, works well).

Makes 8 servings.