Wednesday, February 18, 2009
“I look for inspiration from the main ingredients, not the exact proportions or techniques.”
(Chez Panisse, Berkeley)
Cooking is a lot like love. You can read about it. You can read about it and do something with that knowledge. With a little patience, you develop a level of comfort so that what happens in the kitchen comes naturally.
Perhaps because I never ate it as a child, I find asparagus to be subtly sensual. Even though preparing it is simple, it isn’t something I prepare for just anyone.
The best thing to do with asparagus is as little as possible. Think of these slender members of the lily family as young ladies- better wholesome than spoiled by too much attention or adornment.
This is an excellent way to learn to love asparagus and learn to feel your way through the kitchen.
Which asparagus to use - the freshest- this is a vegetable which does not age gracefully. The finer stems tend to be more tender. Thicker ones will need their sides pared or eathing them can be like biting into a tree trunk. Look for spears with tightly braided tops.
If you can’t cook as soon as you and the stalks are in the kitchen- an inch of water holding a bunch like flowers in the vase is the most satisfactory way to hold them overnight in the refrigerator. Not in the coldest compartment- you don't want the water to freeze.
When ready to cook- heat a good grade of extra virgin olive oil- just enough to cover the bottom of a largish frying pan.
Snap the bottoms off the stalks to rid of the woody bottoms. Roll the spears, a single layer at a time, gently rolling the stalks over, until their color starts to turndown a notch. Sprinkle with salt.
Now is time to make them sweat a little. You do this by splashing the pan with just enough chicken broth or white wine to make steam rise. When the spears are just beginning to wilt when lifted- quickly toss in a handful of pine nuts. One minute more or less over the fire- and you are done.
Taste the wholesomeness of such simply prepared asparagus. You can guild her with sauces or grated this and that. But for my money- she won’t be any more delicious.
Asparagus can be tricky to mate successfully with a wine. To create a complementary couple- try serving with a California Gewürztraminer.
To your health- Salud!
Photograph by Gene Sasse. Used with permission. http://www.genesasse.com/