Tag Archives: Asparagus

Recipe: asparagus and parmesan souffle gratin

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Better late than never, the asparagus season is finally upon us. That late cold snap left me hanging around, waiting with bated breath for the first few stalks to arrive. I love it when asparagus season arrives. To me its a sign that summer is just round the corner; the weather has warmed up nicely and an increase in daylight hours brings everything to life again. I’ve never had much luck or patience when it comes to growing my own asparagus so I look forward to the time when Hooton’s crops are ready. But then to my horror I heard a dreadful rumour. The whole crop had failed because of the cold wind last week.

Nooohhh!! I rushed to the farm shop (it wasn’t just to check out the authenticity of this claim, I did have to do some other shopping as well….really, I’m not THAT obsessed) and asked in a hushed and slightly worried voice..‘is it true? the asparagus has failed’

The woman in the shop looked at me reassuringly. No, she said. Don’t worry, it’s just running a bit late. Huh! Like everything in my life!

But now it has appeared. The sunny weekend weather sped up the process and so they cut first stalks this week. And typically I missed them, although I did send manage to get some put by for me via a desperate twitter plea.

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When asparagus stems are young and tender they need little accompaniment and no peeling. Naturally sweet, they need only brief cooking (a quick blanch in boiling water is more than enough) and are perfect in a salad, with hollandaise sauce or in the classic dish asparagus mimosa.

Mind you, the day I collected my swag the rain lashed down, the wind blew and I even turned the heat on in the house for an hour! I wanted something warm and comforting and so returned to my old favourite, asparagus and parmesan souffle gratin. It’s a recipe I came up with a couple of years ago. Combining the lightness of a souffle, with the simplicity of a gratin this recipe stops the worry of whether it will rise or not. Topped with briefly blanched stalks of asparagus it is simple, yet sophisticated enough to serve at a dinner party. I’ve made it for supper club guests a couple of times and it’s always been a hit.

Asparagus and parmesan souffle-gratin:

500ml milk

50g flour

50g butter

4 egg yolks and 2 egg whites

1 sprig of thyme, 1 bay leaf, 1 small onion studded with 6 cloves and a pinch og nutmeg

75g parmesan finely grated

24 thickish spears of asparagus, peeled

half a lemon

Butter a large gratin dish and sprinkle in about a third of the parmesan cheese. Place milk in a pan with the onion, herbs, nutmeg and a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Bring gently to the boil then turn off the heat and leave to infuse for about half an hour (or as long as possible).

Make a roux with the butter and flour then gradually stir in the strained milk. Return to a low heat and cook for about 10 minutes stirring constantly until you have a smooth white sauce. Add two-thirds of the parmesan and remove from the heat. Allow to cool whisking occasionally to prevent a crust from forming. When it is lukewarm whisk in the egg yolks then cover with buttered paper until it has cooled completely.

Blanch the asparagus in plenty of boiling water for a minute or two (they should be tender, but still green), drain,  then refresh in plenty of cold water to halt the cooking process.

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Beat the egg whites with the juice of half a lemon and a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Put the souffle mixture into a large bowl and whisk in one tablespoon of the egg white to lighten the mixture, then gently fold in the rest of the egg white with a spatula. Pour the mixture into the greased dish then lay the asparagus in a row on the top (as in the picture above). Bake in a hot oven (230 degrees C, gas mark 8, 450 degrees F) for about 18 to 20 minutes. The gratin should puff up and not wobble when shaken.

 

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Out with the old and in with the new: a seasonal solstice supper

the end of the night...this time lots of food pics, but no people!!!

Now that midsummer is upon us and half the year is already gone, its time to bid farewell to some of my favourite early produce. Asparagus, which only pays a fleeting visit, sadly finished cropping this week and it seems the strawberries at Moelyci have almost finished too. I’m sure elsewhere they will continue for a while yet but I’m glad I have used and preserved plenty. But before I start to pine for these wonderful summer treasures, it’s a happy hello to all the rest of the joys of June. Redcurrants are plentiful in the fruit fields of Moelyci and in my garden at home; elder flowers are still with us and a new batch of black currants are on their way. I have been out collecting plenty of the elder flowers this week for cordial, champagne and to use in the dessert I made for supper club.

I also paid visits to my three favourite vegetable suppliers: Pippa and John who give me my weekly veg box currently have an abundance of beetroot, tender courgettes, sweet young carrots, new potatoes, lettuce, a variety of chard, basil; Paul at Moelyci who has all that wonderful fruit in the market garden shop as well as lettuces ready for harvesting and lots of fresh parsley (something I don’t have much luck with) and Hootons farm shop, which is where I’ve got my asparagus, and now they also have broad beans too.   All those vegetables have kept me busy chutneying, and I did have a good few jars of spiced courgette and beetroot relish until I sold it all on Sunday, but that’s another story! I also finally got round to bottling all the liqueurs that have lurked in the back of my cupboard since the beginning of March (Creme de Cassis, raspberry vodka, loganberry vodka and sloe gin) as I wanted to crack open the Cassis for supper club.

Supper club was also the perfect opportunity to try out my new toy. Inspired by Dave’s smoking exploits at Derimon I ordered myself a little Cameron’s stove top smoker; they aren’t cheap at £43 a go for a small one, but my goodness it was worth it. It came with two small tubs of smoking chips (Alder and Hickory) and a big bag of oak.

my new smoker

I decided to try salmon as a  first attempt and so following the instructions, and using Alder chips as suggested, I set up the smoker. Twenty five minutes later I gently slid back the lid to reveal a lightly cooked, delicately and perfectly smoked piece of salmon. It was remarkably simple, yet pleasingly effective. Once it had cooled I gently pulled the salmon apart, tossing it with some new potatoes and salad, olive oil and a dollop of horseradish cream. This then formed part of my pick nick to take to the teens sports day on Saturday afternoon so I could test it out on friends . The unanimous verdict was that it was absolutely gorgeous!

doing its thing

perfect hot smoked salmon

There was a full house at supper club this weekend, which saw us celebrating the solstice or midsummer, a birthday dinner, an anniversary, and a welcome visit from two regulars and a new friend. It was moderately boisterous and it was nice to see people relaxed enough to come and chat in the kitchen. The menu for the evening of course celebrated the best of the season

Prosecco with Cassis (does that make it a Kir Royale, or a Prosecco Kir or just plain Kir?) with ricotta, parma ham, basil and balsamic vinegar topped bruschetta

The we said goodbye to the asparagus in style with mini asparagus and parmesan souffle tarts ( a variation on my souffle-gratin recipe) served with beetroot relish and carrots and courgette slaw

tarts ready to bakeplating tarts on the bench in the kitchen

For main it was hot smoked salmon with pan-fried new potatoes, baby broad beans, asparagus and chard and topped with horseradish cream. I collected the salmon bright and early from Mermaid seafood in Llandudno (sadly our only decent fishmongers locally) who stock a fantastic array of local and sustainable fish. The fillets were a really good size, unlike those you might get in the supermarket. I cannot  emphasise how much better it is to buy fish and meat from a specialist: It is fresher, often local and the portions are so much bigger. I don’t think there is much difference in price bu if buying on the high street is more expensive…well you certainly get more for your money!

All I did was season the salmon with salt and pepper and squeeze over some lime juice. For the horseradish cream I used a tub of creme fraiche which I seasoned with salt and pepper and a pinch of cayenne then stirred in enough horseradish to taste, but not so it is overpowering. I used English Provender horseradish which was excellent.

Ideally, if I’d had the finances, I would have bought the large smoker, but i had no idea how accommodating the small one would be. In the end I was only able to fit three salmon fillets in it at a time, so had to cook in four batches, but I gave myself plenty of time and kept the salmon warm in the bottom of the oven. It was a simple dish; but in this case less was definitely more!

The elder flowers heads were wrapped in muslin and chucked in to heat with milk and cream, to impart a delicate flowery taste to another simple, but effective dish; Elderflower pannacotta. The light creaminess complimented the sweet sharpness of a strawberry and red currant coulis and fresh berries. I think I even saw one person rubbing his finger across the plate to get every last flavourful bit of coulis.

As ever we completed the meal with local Welsh cheeses, crackers and coffee. This time we included two hard but mild goats cheeses from Y Cwt Caws, our usual smoked brie from Derimon, a blue Perl Las from Caws Cenarth in Cardigan and we were lucky enough to be asked to sample a new Brie from Rhyd y Delyn, which was delicious although needed to be slightly riper we all thought.

A few lovely comments about the night, the first from Paola (of Dr Zigs Dragon Bubbles…if you ever need seriously GIANT bubbles these are the guys to call!)

“Just had the most awesome scrummy yummy tastiest glorious omgoodnes meal EVER at Moel Faban secret supper club. And met the most wonderful people! And we Bubbled too!! This is one of those things that just must be experienced to be believed – and really should be on everyone’s bucket list”

and from Anouska whose birthday it was…

“I’ve been eating out with Non for the last ten years and she usually complains about something. This is the first time I have ever heard her say that everything was delicious”

Thanks everyone it was a great night xxx

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Roast duck breast with redcurrant and red wine sauce, hot seared asparagus, pan fried Jersey Royal and sorrel salad

While the southern part of the UK appears to be bathed in perpetual sunshine, we up North (well in Wales anyway) experience weather systems in constant turmoil. One minute it’s hot and sunny, the next 60 mile an hour winds, followed closely by torrential sideways rain. The sort of rain that gets you really soaking and doesn’t care if you are carrying an umbrella.

Like the weather I feel just as confused. Sometimes it’s hard to choose what to eat on a grey day: Should it be something hearty and warming that will help me forget the changeable weather, or stubbornly persist with the summery salads despite their inadequacy in preventing my shivers?

Last night I came up with this recipe and I had to share it. It was an extremely good way of combining seasonal summery ingredients and making them feel somewhat more comforting.

Duck: 1 Gressingham duck (mine weighed about 1.25k) seasoned inside and out and then roasted in the oven for about 40 minutes. The flesh should still be a bit pink. For this dish I just used the breasts and saved the rest of the meat for something else. Once cooked remove the duck from the oven and allow to rest covered in foil. Just before serving carve off the breasts.

Sauce: finely chop four shallots and about 125g mushrooms. Cook until golden brown in a little oil then add 150ml red wine. Cook down briskly until it’s reduced by half. Then throw in four or five juniper berries, 450ml of chicken or duck stock, a dessertspoonful of unsalted butter and 25ml whipping cream. Allow this to bubble away until reduced a bit and thickened. I then added two teaspoons of my homemade red currant jelly. I didn’t want to add too much so it became too sweet so I erred on the side of caution, but you could add more if you did want a sweeter sauce. This amount was just right for me.

home-made red currant jelly

Potatoes and salad: Wash enough potatoes to feed however many there are of you. Cut lengthways and par boil for about two to three minutes. Drain and heat a pan with a little duck fat. Add the potatoes and saute until just turning golden brown; remove and drain on some kitchen paper. Keep warm.

Put a pan of water on to boil. Trim and peel the asparagus. When the water boils plunge in the asparagus for a couple of minutes only. They should stay green, but slightly tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Refresh in cold water. Put a char grill pan on the stove to heat, brushed with a little olive oil. When thoroughly hot add the asparagus and cook until the lines of the pan begin to mark the outside, and they are tender, but not blackened. Toss the potatoes, a hand full of shredded sorrel (central stem removed) and the asparagus together with a little seasoning and a dribble of olive oil then pile  on to warmed plates. Top with the duck breast and a good ladle full of the sauce.

Enjoy with the rest of the wine from the bottle!

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