Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Brief Interruption For Spring

First day back from North America, and it's Saturday, so what better thing to do but go off to the market and see what they have. I must say, this is a distinct improvement over potatoes and Swiss chard, which was about all that was there when I left. There's a new crop of spinach, the first strawberries (which were good enough that you could almost watch them vanish into the hands of Easter shoppers), some nice green peas from Mme Choisisez (I must record her sometime; what a voice!) and the star of the show, a bundle of alleged wild asparagus. Not sure what I'm going to do with that, but there's ample proof that the non-wild is coming in big-time.

In fact, jet-lagged as I was last night, I still managed to stagger down to the supermarket and grab some (Spanish, not local) asparagus of the domesticated variety. And, since I haven't posted this seasonal recipe yet, I figured I'd let you in on a big favorite around The Slum during the springtime. Given what asparagus goes for (although not the bundle I bought last night) at this time of year, this does qualify as broke-not-poor cuisine. I only got to cook twice on my trip, and this was something I made the night the Vegan Child came home from college. She got to sneer at the cheese we applied at the end, but she ate as much as her mother and I did.

Anyway, first we consider the penne, as it will be the pasta of choice for this. It's a pasta shape with, um, lusty associations, also known as "bridegroom's noodles" and "wedding pasta." I never notice a libidinal boost from the stuff, but who knows. Still, the point of this picture is so you can see the size of one penne noodle.

Kinda hard to see against the wood there, but the point is, that's the size everything you do next should be. So take your asparagus (about half that bundle did for two servings) and snap it into penne-sized pieces, toss them into cold salted water, and heat them just until the water starts to boil. If you're using extra-thick asparagus, you might let them boil for a few seconds full-on, but no more than that.

Drain these, fill up the pot again with water for the pasta, salt that and put it right back on the stove.

As you can see above, straight-ahead green onions are very rare around here, so I have to make do with these "sweet onions" with bulbs on the end. I deal with them by cutting them into approximately penne-sized bits, using the Chinese technique called "horse ear" cutting.

Then I mince up some garlic, heat some olive oil, sautee the garlic until it's fragrant and add the green onions, mixing them around for a minute or two.

Then add a can of crushed tomatoes, hit it with some salt and pepper, mix well, and let it cook down for a while.

Once the pasta water boils, toss your penne into it, and then get a bunch of basil leaves. Lay one on top of the other, making a neat stack, and then, with a very sharp knife, slice them into slivers, a technique known as "julienne." (I added a bit more pepper to the sauce above because I was using the large-leaf basil, not the peppery little-leaved "Provençal" basil, which isn't here yet).

Now throw the asparagus into the sauce to warm it up.

When the pasta's done, drain it (tossing a tablespoon of the water into the sauce) and mix it with the julienned basil and some Parmesan and sit down and enjoy the taste of spring.

* * * 

Yes, there's one more tale from the North American tour, which I'll get to soon, but since I'd noticed that most of the U.S. is awash in lovely green asparagus, I figured I'd document last night's dinner and put it up before the bounty recedes. Any ideas on that wild asparagus are welcome, too. 




  2. you've probably eaten the wild asparagus by now, but next time put it in a baking tin and drizzle olive oil over it and salt it liberally. Then pop it into a hot oven -- 200-220 C and let it just turn a little dark. Because it's so nice and skinny it will get both soft and crisp at the same time and the browning/crisping will enhance the nutty flavor. yum.

  3. Actually, I'd just finished it when your comment came, and had sauteed it in butter, which worked just as well. (The oven was full of roasting potatoes, and I only have two burners on the stove, remember). It was great, but expensive: I think that bundle cost me €3, and over half of each stalk was woody and had to be discarded.


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