Friday, 13 May 2011

A sort-of-broccoli pesto

I am very much a fan of the kind of pasta dishes that don’t start with a sweated onion and a can of tomatoes. Blah, blah is all the unenthusiastic verbosity I can muster when faced with the inevitable store cupboard standbys. However, give me a handful of greens of some – any -  description, some anchovies and garlic – and now we’re talking. The bitter, savoury, salty, grown-up flavours appeal to me much more than an over-reduced tomato base, and with a kick of chilli and a squeeze of lemon, it’s enough to roll you over and have you begging for more. Well, maybe, depending on how low your standards are.

I started with a bag of past-its-best purple sprouting (having bought two bags at the market in a spirit of hollandaise-based enthusiasm and conveniently forgetting MCD loathes the stuff) and thought about how I successfully used the woody asparagus ends last week. I took off the tiny stalky florets and set them to one side and then roughly chopped the longer woody stalks. I put them in the food processor with a large clove of garlic, a sprinkling of crushed dried chilli, a good squeeze of lemon, a couple of anchovies and some oregano for good measure and blitzed the lot.

I then slowly fried the mixture in some olive oil in a pan with a little water to help steam it; a little white wine would be good here too. Be warned: it does go a deep, perhaps unattractive, khaki colour but no-one promised you a rose garden. Meanwhile get your pasta of choice on to boil and about three minutes from the end of cooking time, throw in the reserved florets, then drain when all is tender.

Toss the pasta and florets into the sauce, then add a fierce amount of Parmesan and maybe more lemon and chilli if you really need a kick up the backside.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

What to do with asparagus ends

This comes courtesy of Lindsay Bareham in The Times. I’ve tweaked it a little but it’s still a brilliant use of the woody ends of asparagus that you would normally throw in the bin, or, if you’re extremely thrifty and clever, freeze for stock or some such. This is less work and fiendishly inventive, not least because you wouldn’t want to use whole asparagus in this, but it’s perfect for those who hate waste.

Chuck your snapped off asparagus ends in boiling water for two minutes. I used the ends of two big handfuls of asparagus. Then add around 100g frozen peas and cook until both are tender; I’d say about 3-4 minutes but keep testing. Drain them, then blitz in a food processor with a good dollop of crème fraiche, salt and pepper, a few mint leaves and a handful of basil. I added a little lemon juice too, just to freshen the flavour.

Lindsay suggests spreading the puree on toast and topping with the rest of the asparagus, steamed, with a poached egg and some Parma ham, which sounds fabulous. We had it bruschetta-style and MCD Jr had it stirred into baby pasta and devoured the lot (though to be fair, there’s very little he doesn’t devour, so I wouldn’t take that as a recommendation).

Monday, 2 May 2011

Wild garlic cream–you read it here first

Wild garlic is a wonderful delicacy at this time of year and when I come across it, I tend to go a bit mad and buy armfuls – like its spring companion asparagus - convinced it will go with everything; thankfully, it is an amiable accompaniment to most things. However, last night was a feast of sheer genius (I hope you don’t mind me saying) and I must, must write it down.

We were aiming for something around the theme of steak sandwiches and chips and in my head this seemed perfectly preceded by a bunch of asparagus roasted in the oven with olive oil, as is our wont. Pondering on how to include some of the wild garlic, I was seduced by the idea of a wild garlic cream to dip the asparagus and even the chips into. What follows is how I put it all together.

For the chips either: open bag of frozen chips and bake in hot oven for around 20 minutes or: cut peeled floury or unpeeled new potatoes into wedges, drizzle with oil and salt and bake in a hot oven for around 30 minutes, depending on their size.

For the wild garlic cream, gently warm half a tub of crème fraiche in a small pan (it’s hard to be prescriptive about this, but as much as you think you would like spooned over everything…). Finely chop a good handful of the wild garlic leaves and add to the cream, leaving it to gently bubble for a few minutes. Cube some Jarlsberg (again, hard to be dictatorial about this as this was simply what I had in; the Pecorino also in stock would have been a bit too big for its boots first time around, but I see no reason not to try it next time) and add to the sauce. Jarlsberg adds a lovely sweet nutty background taste that lets the wild garlic take centre stage. Check the seasoning.

Roast or steam your asparagus until tender and set aside, kept warm.

Griddle your seasoned steak until done to your desired degree. I tend towards rare as rare can be and underdo it on the griddle so that the resting time cooks it through a little more.

Split your sandwich bread of choice open (we had ciabatta) and smear with a thin layer of Dijon mustard. I find it impossible to have a steak sandwich without this essential layer; you may feel differently. Toss over some watercress. Slice your rested steak thinly and carefully, saving the juices and arrange on the bread then pour over the juices and season again. Spoon over some of the wild garlic cream and sandwich together.

Pour the rest of the cream into a pot and use for dipping asparagus and chips into. Heavenly creamy bliss in a few minutes.

You, my friends, are welcome.