Spring

Spring is in the air….. and nothing says spring like Asparagus.

White and green asparagus are really the same vegetable.  The only difference between the two is that the white have never seen the sunlight and have not formed the chlorophyll that makes them green.  Having grown asparagus, I can tell you that it is a lot of work to grow white asparagus.  The asparagus plant is very easy to grow.  In the spring the shoots come up out of the ground (i.e. the asparagus spears) and as they grow, they turn into the most beautiful fern like plants.

The spears are harvested before they are able to sprout leaves.  The plant will continue to send shoots out for a few weeks.  Once the spears become very thin, it’s time to stop harvesting and let the plant develop if you want to have a crop next year.  Now, about these white asparagus…..remember, they can’t see sunlight or they instantly turn green.  The only way to have white asparagus is to keep mounding dirt over them as they start to grow.  The french also use some very attractive bells to cover the individual spears as they grow.  But you need to keep an eye on them constantly since they grow very rapidly and can end up all crooked if they get larger than the bell.

My Grandparents loved white asparagus.  My grandmother used to grow them in her garden in Mexico.  But it was very frustrating.  She would go out in the evening to the garden and make sure that all the spears were well covered and tucked in for the night and then early the next morning they would be poking out again. They grew so quickly before her very eyes.  And after days of taking care of them, a splash of sunlight would ruin it and they’d be green.

Now every time that I see white asparagus at the market, I just have to pick some up.  I always think of Oma as I carefully prepare them for supper……

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Warm mushroom salad

This is a simple salad, but a very interesting one.  It is hearty enough for a light supper. And it is a breeze to make.

Saute a package of mushrooms, about 2 cups in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. You can use regular white button mushrooms or you can use dried mushrooms that you soak in warm water.  Make sure to cut off any tough ends if you use dried. Add chopped onions, garlic or shallots to taste.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Meanwhile fry bacon until crispy.  You could also use pancetta if you would like.  Once the mushrooms are cooked, add 3 Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and a splash of olive oil.  Saute a few minutes.  Then add to the greens.

You can use arugula or spinach.  Pour the warm mushrooms on top with some of the dressing.  Crumble the bacon on top and add some cheese.  You can use goat cheese or blue cheese.  Add some toasted pine nuts and serve.

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Italian Mac ‘n’ Cheese

I really don’t like regular Mac ‘n’ Cheese.  I guess the whole Velveeta just throws me.  Plastic is for buying food, not making food.

I do like baked pasta, and after all that’s what it really is.  So why can’t it be made with good cheese, like Parmesano reggiano  and Gorgonzola.  Top it with some crispy prosciutto and now we’re talking!

These baked pastas are really easy.  All you have to do is boil the pasta type you want until it is “al dente”.  In the meantime make a Bechamel sauce.  Add some Parmesano and Gorgonzola.  Combine the pasta and the sauce.  Place in an oven proof dish, sprinkle cheese on top, put in the oven at about 350 and bake until the cheese is melted and slightly brown.  Crumple crisp prosciutto on top just before serving.    Now that’s real food.

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Mustard Sauce

My grandmother Oma did not know how to boil an egg before she married my grandfather.  But my grandfather considered himself a “gourmand”.  For the record, he was rail thin.  His favorite pastime was reading cookbooks.  Even if he was sick and could not stand the sight of food, he still loved his cookbooks.

He never cooked, but he taught my grandmother how to cook.  He was so supportive to her “experiments”.  My mother told me that even when they were served the most God awful meals, he would just turn to my grandmother and say: ” this is fine, next time we should try to do it a little differently”.  My mother and my aunt would not be able to eat any of it, but he would have enough bites to ensure that she was not discouraged.

Oma turned out to be a really wonderful cook.  And she had a vast repertoire.  My grandfather would emphasis the German foods of his youth, but the did have an eclectic cuisine.

A very simple sauce that Oma made was the Mustard Sauce.  It is very easy, it’s just equal parts of butter and Dijon mustard melted and served over vegetables or fish.  It is very simple but delicious.  I recently served with green beans to my family, and they raved about it.  I had forgotten how good it is.  Try it!

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Quinoa

Quinoa is an ancient grain.  It has been a diet staple for over 6,000 years.  The Incas ate Quinoa and considered it to be sacred.   It is a very versitle grain that can be used in place of rice or pasta.  It can be used cold as a salad or hot as a risotto or pilaf.   Quinoa is very high in protein and it’s a complete protein which makes it very healthy.

Quinoa

To cook take one part Quinoa and two parts liquid (water, stock etc.), salt and simmer for about 15 mins or until the liquid has been absorbed.  The Quinoa should be a bit crunchy but not hard.

This can then be eaten as a rice pilaf or as a salad.  For a salad, you can add whatever herbs and vegetables you would like with a vinaigrette and serve cold.  For a side dish you can add butter or cheese and serve warm.  It is a unique grain that is underutilized.

Veggies

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Risotto alla Milanese

Shallot

Risotto is a very classic Italian dish.  There are numerous variations.  You can mix it up with different vegetables or proteins.  But by far the most classic interpretation is from Milan.   Rice has a starring role in this recipe and as such, it is important to us the right kind.

peeled shalot

Arborio is a good type to use but the preferred rice is the Carnaroli.  It is plump and releases it’s starch in a uniform manner.  This is what give the dish it’s creamy texture.

rice and garlicrice

The saffron imparts not only color but flavor as well.  Don’t be shocked by the price.  When you think that there are only 3-4 of these strands in a single crocus flower, you begin to understand it’s value.  It is worth it.

Saffron

risotto spoon

Risotto alla Milanese

In a large saucepan, sauté 2 finely chopped shallots and 1 clove of garlic in 2 Tablespoons of olive oil until softened.  Stir in  1 cup of rice. Coat rice with the oil and then add 1/2 cup of white wine. Add 2 capsules of saffron.  Stir constantly.  Start adding 5 cups of broth little by little.  Keep adding the liquid until the rice is done and creamy. Remove from heat and add 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve.

risotto plate

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