Archive for the ‘Spring’ Category

Asparagus soup

11 May 2017

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It all starts with the memory of a chilled asparagus soup served with black salt. It was at a friend’s house and I was smitten with the combination. I immediately proceeded to buy black salt — i.e.  Hawaiian lava salt — which added nicely to my slightly frivolous collection (never fewer than five or six salts in the house at any time). And the black salt became the wallflower of my pantry cupboard. Always there, rarely noticed. But every time I did, I thought of asparagus soup.

Quite a few years later, here, then, is the ideal — though entirely optional — use for black salt.

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Asparagus soup recipe inspired from Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories

The soup requires only four ingredients and is very simple if the use of a food processor and then a food mill doesn’t seem like too much trouble.

4 small leeks
1 medium potato
600 g (1 1/2 lbs) green asparagus
120 g (1/2 cup) butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Black Hawaiian lava salt to serve (optional)

Prepare the leeks by removing all the green leaves, slicing thinly, and washing thoroughly to remove any grit. Peel the potato and cut into small chunks.

Wash and trim the asparagus stalks to remove the tough ends. Reserve some asparagus tips to garnish the soup: about 8 to 10 tips if the asparagus is quite thin, or 4 to 5 tips to be each cut in half (lengthwise) if the asparagus is thicker. Roughly chop the rest of the stalks.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and stew the leeks over low heat until soft (about 5 to 10 minutes), taking care that the leeks don’t color.

Once the leeks have softened, add 750 ml (3 cups) water and the potato. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes until the potato pieces have cooked through.

Add the chopped asparagus stalks (not the reserved tips) to the soup at a lively simmer for another 5 minutes until the asparagus is cooked. *Take care not to overcook at this point, it will damage the delicate taste of the asparagus.*

Transfer the soup to a food processor and blend thoroughly until the soup is as smooth as possible. There will always remain strands from the asparagus, however, which is why the soup then needs to be passed through a food mill (or a fine mesh sieve, but I’ve always found that to be much too fussy).

The soup can be served hot or chilled. Before serving, quickly sautée the asparagus tips in a little olive oil in a small frying pan. *If reheating, use very low heat and take care not to let the soup boil as it will distort the flavor.*

The soup should be garnished with black salt or regular flakey sea salt and pepper, and/or a spoonful of crème fraîche.

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Related recipes

Asparagus salad ** Cauliflower soup ** Roasted leeks

Baked apples

26 January 2017

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January is the time to huddle close, meet friends, have a pint, a meal, a whiskey nightcap. But after months of cooking and feasting, dim winter days call for easy comforts. Delicious meals that require barely any effort. Hardly a thought. Simple dishes that can be effortlessly adapted with whatever languishes in a pantry in the aftermath of holiday baking marathons.

Baked apples for instance. The basics are simple, the variations many: wash an apple, core it, stuff it, bake it, eat it warm with a dollop of cream.

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Any apple will do. Some hold their figure while others erupt into shapeless volcanoes; anything is fine by me. For the stuffing the elements might be dried fruits — for example raisins, chopped dates, cranberries; chopped nuts — pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds; some sweetness and spice — brown sugar, dark sugar, honey, maple syrup, cinnamon, lemon zest, ginger, allspice, cardamom. A splash of fortified wine. For serving, a generous spoonful of cream.

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Baked apples recipe

One whole apple per person
Currants (or raisins, cranberries, chopped dates or apricots)
Pecans (or walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds)
Dark muscovado sugar (or brown sugar, honey, maple syrup)
Ginger and cardamom (or cinnamon, allspice, lemon zest)
Sherry (or Marsala, Madeira)
Clotted cream (or crème fraîche, ice cream, yogurt) for serving

Preheat the oven to 375°F (180°C)

Wash and core the apples (leaving them whole)

Toss the nuts, dried fruits, sugar, and spices together. Stuff each apple with the mixture. Sprinkle with a dash of wine if using. Send into the oven for 25 to 40 minutes, until the apples are soft through.

Let cool just a little and serve warm with a spoonful of cream.

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Gooseberry elderflower jam

25 June 2015

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For years there was an acidulated gap in my life.

While I grew up on the sour tinge of gooseberries (as well as raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants…) just-picked from the fairy-tale garden of my grandparent’s neighbor in Switzerland, for all the intermittent years since, gooseberries virtually disappeared from my life. They are not all that popular in France, and were not common at the Turkish market in Berlin where I did most of my shopping; markets have since proliferated there, I am sure gooseberries now feature prominently. The berries magically reentered my world In New York at Union Square market, and they are impossible to overlook in London. I have moved to gooseberry heaven.

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Gooseberries grow wild in Northern Europe, they thrive in cool, moist climates, which explains their prevalence here, and a notable claim of northern superiority: Scottish gooseberries were historically considered superior to those of England (conversely, English gooseberries were thought better than those of the Continent). Wild bushes were apparently the only native fruit-bearing plants of the Shetland and Orkney islands.

Notwithstanding my enduring passion for the prickly little things, they are not the most beloved of berries. Perhaps because they tend to be impossibly tart. Or because they sport the most peculiar names. Gooseberries in England and groseilles à maquereau (mackerel redcurrants) in France. Those epithets probably linked to the rich dishes they initially accompanied. (There is another theory for the English name, which could be derived either from Scottish or Dutch origin.) In German they are guardedly called ‘Stachelbeeren’ — ‘prickleberries’ — an apt description, and not the most inviting one.

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I can well imagine that gooseberry compote tastes great with a savory dish, a little like cranberry sauce, but when one compulsively buys over a kilo of berries as soon as they appear in spring, the best solution is jam. They pair remarkably well with elderflowers, which are in season coincidentally. And so I’ve adapted Christine Ferber’s simple gooseberry jam. The result is very delicate. And deliciously tart.

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Gooseberry and elderflower jam
Adapted from Christine Ferber’s two-step technique

1.1 kg gooseberries

800g white or caster sugar

2 small lemons, juiced

One small lemon, finely sliced, each slice cut into quarters

2 heads elderflowers, just-picked

Rinse the gooseberries in cold water, strain, then dry in a clean tea towel (dish cloth). Rub the berries with the cloth very gently to remove the fuzz. Trim the stems and what is left of the flower. In a heavy, cast-iron or marmalade pot, mix the gooseberries, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon slices. Bring to a simmer and immediately remove from the heat and transfer to a large bowl.

Inspect the elderflowers and carefully remove any bugs. Submerge the elderflower heads into the fruit/sugar mixture. Give a gentle stir to mix the aroma, then cover the fruit (and flowers) with a sheet of parchment paper and  place in the refrigerator overnight (up to 24h hours).

The next day, remove the elderflowers. Transfer the fruit back to the cooking pot and bring to a gentle boil. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the jam sets*. Stir frequently and don’t leave the room, this jam burns very quickly! Skim off the excess scum as it boils.

*To test whether the jam has set, place a spoonful of jam in a small dish in the refrigerator, it will cool quickly and reveal its consistency.

Boil about 12 small or 8 large jam pots in water for 5 minutes to sterilize.

Once the jam has reached the jelling point, remove from the heat, spoon into jam pots, and close immediately. Try to keep the jam for a few weeks before opening, it gets better with time!

Simple things | Radishes with butter and salt

24 April 2015

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Pleasures of spring. The weather entices away from kitchen and stoves. Eating becomes simpler. Food speaks for itself, cooking takes a sidestep.

This could be breakfast; an afternoon snack; apéro bites; the start of dinner. With a slice of good bread.

It’s just a reminder.

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Brilliant spiced cauliflower

11 December 2014

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A recipe to arouse the taste buds amid the cloying seasonal onslaught of cookies and chocolate, Glühwein and Christmas punch. Cauliflower is a demure vegetable, and this method teases it from fading bystander to zesty leading lady.

I first tasted this elegantly spiced cauliflower at Newman Street Tavern a few weeks ago. It was so good, so unexpectedly addictive, that we asked for the recipe. More precisely, my friend asked, I didn’t exactly dare. What’s more, it wasn’t the first time that evening — the server had just brought from the kitchen the handwritten instructions for an incredible fennel and watercress soup. Asking for another recipe from that delicious meal was pushing it a bit far, surely? Or perhaps not. It was of course, evidence of our appreciation.

Brilliant spiced cauliflower, adapted from Newman Street Tavern, with thanks
I had to extrapolate a little, especially for the spice mix, as there were no measurements. I’ve tested the recipe a couple of times and I believe this version comes close.

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 star anise

2 tsps sweet paprika

1 1/2 tsp turmeric

1 pinch saffron threads

3 cloves garlic

3-inch piece of fresh ginger

Sea salt

Olive oil

1 medium onion

3 small tender celery stalks

1 cauliflower

Freshly ground black pepper

Sherry vinegar

Freshly squeezed lemon juice

Fresh dill and/or cilantro leaves

In a small skillet, gently toast the cumin, anise, coriander, fennel. Just enough to coax out the aroma (be careful not to burn the spices!). In a small blender, grind to a fine powder together with the turmeric, paprika, and saffron.

Crush the garlic and grate the ginger and mix into a paste with one teaspoon salt.

Peel and finely dice the onion. Cut the celery stalks into paper thin slices.

Wash and cut the cauliflower into small florets.

In a skillet large enough to fit all the cauliflower florets in one layer, heat enough olive oil to generously coat the pan. Throw in the spice mix and stir for a few seconds, then very quickly add the garlic/ginger paste. Cook for barely a minute then add the onion and celery. Add a little oil if necessary. **Again, be very careful not to burn the spices!**

Fry the onion and celery until translucent then add the cauliflower florets with a splash of water.

Cook for just a few minutes, until al dente.

To finish the dish, season with salt and pepper, a splash of sherry vinegar and squeeze of lemon juice. Garnish with plenty of dill and/or cilantro leaves.


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