Category Archives: asparagus

How to Grill a Perfect Asparagus


”Summer is for leisure. Slow down. Take a break. Tune in,” the real me has been whispering to the other me for a long-long time. Multitasking and distractions have been my pet peeve this season (if not this year).  I’ve been so busy and exhausted I stopped admiring food for a while: simple fresh garden food. Can you imagine? What can be worse for the food blogger in summer? I felt food numb, almost like that hilarious food critic played by the legendary Louis de Funès in The Wingor Thigh movie (L’Aile ou la Cuisse) when he was stroke by engurdie(food numbness in French)  Naturally, I used this state as an excuse to start grilling dinners from anything I could grab fast on my way back home, mostly meat: bangers, steaks, chops, chicken breasts… Boys were happy, but soon enough I couldn’t tell apart grilled steak, pork, or chicken. They all tasted like trash to me and just added to the constant headache and fatigue. I wanted to slow down the time and get present again with the food I eat. I needed a good energy fuel. I started grilling peppers, zucchinis, radishes, scallions, eggplants, cauliflower to assuage the animal’s protein guilt and damage. Everything still tasted boring, but was at least a step up from just meat & salad. I’ve experimented with dozen takes on salsa verde and chimichurri… Hmm, better, but still boring. I couldn’t find the ingredient that would bring me back to life. I suppose this is what chefs or writers, or critics call BLOCK.  

Then the asparagus season came and I decided to stop for 30 minutes and took time to explore just ONE very simple thing: how to make a perfect grilled asparagus. The result was outstanding: I finally was able to enjoy my dinner. I also learned a new skill and for a split second actually felt accomplished. It brought me back to the focus I craved so much.

Fast, affordable, simple, elegant, light, nutritious, this dish made me happy. As they say, happiness is not perfect until it’s shared with others, so I’m sharing it with you. Packed with UMAMI, the mysterious mouth filling fifth flavor plays very well with 4 other taste receptors in this quite minimalistic dish. Asparagus is a known umami intensifier, which in this recipe is powerfully enhanced by the Asian-style brushing sauce made of olive/sesame oil, dash of soya sauce, garlic and Dijon and sesame seeds sprinkle. Wow, as simple as it is, it makes FLAVORS GALORE!

Asparagus is liked by almost everyone I know. Yet generally it is not seen as a source of huge inspiration. Well, this recipe was an inspiration to me. I’ve learned some invaluable tips on how to grill asparagus to the perfection. No biggie? Yes, biggie, because, guess what, I can almost bet, YOU didn’t know these HOWs either.

Tip No 1. Previously, I used Mark Bittman’s recipe to drizzle the asparagus with olive oil (sometimes I would stretch to bacon drippings, or duck fat) throw it on a BBQ for a good 10-15 minutes along with other vegetables. Although acceptable, my grilled asparagus always left much to be desired.

I suspected that time and temperature had to do with it, but so all us do with boiled eggs, yet very few actually know or take time to check the exact timing to boil a perfect egg hard, coddled (soft boiled), or mollet (semi-liquid yolk). Last year I was reading My Canada Eats Foie Gras memoir by food critic Jacob Richler and in one particular story famous Torontonian, Chef Marc Thuet, was explaining in a very core way that the perfectly cooked asparagus has to be al dente. A-HA!

Timing of the grilling process vary from chef to chef, critic to critic, home cook to home cook. After coming down from Bittman’s 10-15 minutes to 2-5 minutes suggested by the most famous chefs; I figured the best timing to have a medium sized asparagus grilled to perfection would be exactly  90 seconds each side as advised in this video by Chef Rodney Bowers from Toronto. This timing is best to deliver crunchy and crispy, real al dente spears you can even warm up next day in a microwave and no one would ever say it wasn’t right form a grill.

Tip No 2. I’ve always been frustrated with having to use giant tongs to grab the asparagus losing many valuable spears through the grill. It took me only few minutes to figure out the technique to grill a perfect asparagus from a pro: Sesame Grilled Asparagus recipe from Chef Steve Raichlen which I actually use for this post, with the brushing sauce slightly modified. He uses pre-soaked wooden toothpicks or bamboo skewers to make a raft boat from 4-5 spears at a time. What a genius idea!

Tip No 3. Finally, the dressing: before, during grilling, or after?  I tried all three and they all work well with me. Some don’t like the bitter touch of the burnt oil, so they prefer to season the grilled asparagus after. I personally love the taste of that char, so I brush the asparagus rafts before and during grilling.

Tip No 4. Is optional and relates to the gardening. Last fall, around mid-October I made an experiment and planted some cut offs of asparagus spears into our garden (1-2 inches deep). I completely forgot about it. Last week I was mulching and saw some tiny little asparagus sprouts popping up. WHOA! Definitely maybe I will be planting more this year (will try to use the leftovers all summer long too): it’s a beautiful perennial, great veg and makes one of the most beautiful foliage to please the eye of a picky gardener or a florist. Try it for yourself in preferably half-shadow, moist place (starting it close to compost would be the best idea) planting 3 to 4-inches long cut offs 1-2 inches deep.

That’s it for today. Please tell me if these tips worked with you.

Happy grilling!

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Two Years Ago: Fiddlehead Ferns Pasta
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SESAME GRILLED ASPARAGUS
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
Ingredients:
Wooden toothpicks or bamboo skewers
1 pound asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons mixed sesame seeds
Salt and black pepper

Instructions:

Soak skewers in cold water for 1 hour in a shallow pan. Drain and set aside.

Preheat grill to high. Snap off the woody bases of the asparagus and discard. Skewer 4 or 5 asparagus spears together, using the toothpicks or 2 bamboo skewers, forming a raft shape.

Combine the olive, sesame oil, soy sauce, mustard and garlic in a small bowl. Stir with a fork to mix. Brush this mixture on the asparagus rafts on both sides. Season the asparagus with a little salt and lots of pepper.

When ready to cook, place the asparagus rafts on the hot grate and grill until nicely browned on both sides, 90 seconds per side. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds as they grill. You can serve the asparagus as rafts or un-skewered.

Note: This recipe makes a large quantity. If necessary, cut the amounts of ingredients accordingly.

Adapted from: Sesame Grilled Asparagus, by Steve Raichlen

Salsa Verde Pasta & Our Talladega Nights


A close cousin of French persillade, Argentinean chimichurri and German grune sosse, the classic Italian salsa verde (from Lombardia region) green sauce is a simple combination of herbs, greens, garlic, anchovies and olive oil.  It’s a wonderful condiment (enhanced with nuts and Parmesan, it turns into a savory pesto) to make your pasta extraordinary in a wink and/or to jazz up the flavor of the freshly barbequed meat, poultry, fish, pizza, salad dressing, etc. Salsa Verde is real must-have condiment for me at any given time or meal, as it is the way to almost anyone’s heart when applied to dishes.
 Lately we’ve been eating pasta a lot (at least three times in a last 10 days, wow) – all of them with green color hues of Salsa Verde (parsley, basil, arugula, oregano), and/or with quickly sautéed greens to praise the summer bounties like spinach, broccolini, rapini, green peas, asparagus, etc. Anchovies, nuts, Parmesan or Pecorino ingredients add tons of umami (see my previous post) to the dish with which they can’t get any better, or bore you, for that matter. In fact, I’m getting hungry for Pasta Verde again by just writing this… 
With days passing at a cosmic speed we couldn’t be any busier this summer: first Montreal’s Grand Prix; then the World Cup; then national holidays, then The Jazz Festival, now Week-ends du Monde and the International Fireworks Festival  – one can barely find time to catch up with all this hurly-burly hot summertime commotion.  So many things to do, places to go, things to watch or discuss over the supper, it’s overwhelming.
Certainly, the trap of the fast food dinner is always at the corner during such times, just waiting to strike. It’s so easy to reach for the plastic and call for Domino’s or St-Hubert or Chinese delivery and then happily re-enact the hilarious Talladega Nights movie ‘supper’episode
I totally don’t mind to have the Talladega night-style dinner from time to time. The problem is: a few dinners like that and the heartburn knocks in, the headache knocks on, the tummy knocks up and the mojo knocks off. We don’t want that. Pasta might not be the leanest or the most dietetic answer to the summer hustle, but it is a much healthier alternative to the junk. You can have totally wonderful wholesome and comforting Salsa Verde pasta dinner packed with good-for-you nutrients within less than 30 minutes. 
A good Salsa Verde is all about the fresh and quality ingredients: the freshest herbs available and the quality olive oil deliver the best result. Once you have a batch in your fridge sky is the limit: you can apply it to or transform it into so many things. The other day we were making BBQ dinner; I used it as a base adding more olive oil, freshly chopped parsley, a dash of fresh thyme, a juice of one lemon, few minced garlic cloves and a pinch of chili flakes to make a great Chimichuri sauce for grilled meat and veggies. It is really one worthy jar of greens with hundreds of dish possibilities. Try it for yourself and see where it takes you next. And it takes 5 minutes to prepare. 
The Salsa Verde pasta dish is a breeze to put together (a friend of mine asked me to put the measuring in ml, which I did below). Cook the pasta of your choice to al dente, drain, toss with salsa and its ready to be served seasoned with freshly ground pepper, drizzled olive oil and garnished with shaved Pecorino or Parmesan :
I like to also mix it with some sautéed greens (see the next few images) in addition. 
FYI, tubular pasta is especially good to absorb the sauce…Nothing however is more comforting to me than orzo or linguini…
Rapini, asparagus and fresh peas are my favorite inclusions for the sautéed greens…
Few simple steps while your pasta is cooking. When pasta is al dente, drain and add to the skillet to dry it  and mix with the green goodness.
And now it’s time to toss with salsa verde:
It’s a to-die-for healthy and comforting vegetarian dish, which I can devour hot, warm or cold anytime, anywhere – a perfect swoon.
 Enjoy the plate of dolce vita!
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SALSA VERDE (ITALIAN GREEN SAUCE) PASTA WITH SAUTEED GREENS
For Salsa Verde Sauce
2 cups (500 ml) fresh green herbs of your choice (parsley, basil, chives, arugula, oregano, marjoram, mint) mixed in any proportion*
2-3 cloves garlic
¼ cup (50ml) pine nuts or slivered almonds
3 anchovy fillets (optional)
2 tbsp (30ml) capers, drained
½ (100 ml) cup quality olive oil
¼ cup (75 ml) cup lemon juice or white wine vinegar
½ cup Parmesan or Pecorino cheese (optional)
1 tsp Dijon mustard (optional)
½ tsp sea salt
 *Note: If wish be, pre-saute the greens with olive oil for 1-2 minutes and cool before blending for a milder taste and longer shelf life
For Pasta Verde
1 lb (500g) pasta of your choice
1 cup (75 ml) Salsa Verde  sauce (see above)
Freshly ground pepper
For Sautéed Greens (optional)
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
2 cups fresh rapini, spinach, broccolini, Swiss chard or collard greens coarsely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Pinch of chili flakes
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp lemon zest
Sea salt to taste
Instructions:
Combine all Salsa Verde ingredients in a food processor or blender and give it a few quick 6-8 pulses until roughly chopped into a coarse puree.  Reserve what you need for the dish and keep the rest refrigerated in an air tight container for up to 6 days.
Optional sautéed greens: preheat the skillet to medium-high and add chili and garlic to infuse the oil for 1 minute. Add green peas and coarsely chopped greens and two tablespoons of water. Increase the heat to high and wilt the greens over the high heat during 1-2 minutes. Transfer to the bowl and put aside.
Cook pasta according to the package instructions in salted boiling water until al dente. Drain.
Place lightly oiled skillet over medium heat. Add pasta and cook tossing for 1 minute until it becomes dry. Transfer to large warmed serving bowl. Toss with Salsa Verde sauce and some extra sautéed greens. Drizzle with some extra olive oil, season with freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately garnished with shaved Parmesan or Pecorino and a dash of fresh mint.

Eggs Asparagus Ham Savoury Tart

Here is what can be called ”Breakfast of Champions” way to cook the eggs and asparagus together into a fancy yet delicious quilt pie you will never forget. Baked eggs have all but disappeared from home menus, which was a pity because they taste great and are so easy to prepare. Just like poached eggs, baked eggs are about to be back IN due to the chefs who are trying to re-invent them with some awesome recipes. This is one of them from local celebrity chef Ricardo (Larrivée), which he called ”Savoury Quilt Pie”. 

Right Image: Amédée Varin from “Drôleries végétales. L’Empire des légumes, mémoires de Cucurbitus Ier” 
by Eugène Nus and Antoine Méray, Paris: Gabriel de Gonet, 1861.

This tart is a perfect way to showcase your freshly bought spring asparagus packed with vitamins A, B6, C, E, K, calcium, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, magnesium, zinc, iron, potassium, copper, selenium and many other minerals our bodies need after a long nutriments-depriving winter.

I modified the recipe just a little bit over the course of a few tries. Particularly, I reduced ham to 200 g (Ricardo’s version is way too MEATY for me) and used only green asparagus (did not get the white one before the week-end).  The preparation takes about 25 minutes, 30 minutes of fridge time and around 45 minutes of cooking, so give yourself a good hour to make this impressive meal. Once you taste it, you will not regret. Steps are easy: defrost and roll the puff pastry, boil or steam asparagus; chop the ham and mix it with sauteed onions and mustard, spread everything according to the instructions and bake. Add eggs 10 minutes into the end of baking. Mine got little out of whack, but the look and aroma were still amazing.

The recipe below is a version of chef Ricardo unchanged.
EGGS ASPARAGUS HAM TART
Ingredients
400 g (14 ounces) store bought puff pastry dough, defrosted
2 onions, chopped
1/2 pound sliced ham, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
30 green asparagus, each 5” long
30 white asparagus, each 5” long
6 eggs
salt & pepper
Instructions:
Line a 30 x 43 cm (12” x 17”) baking sheet with parchment paper. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a 30 x 43 cm (12” x 17”) rectangle. Place it on the baking sheet. Fold the edges of the dough inward, making a 1 cm (1/2”) upturned edge. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. In a skillet over medium heat, brown the onions in the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool. In a bowl, combine the onions, ham, sour cream and mustard. Refrigerate.
In a pot of boiling salted water, blanch the asparagus for 1-2 minutes. Transfer the spears to a bowl of ice water. Drain and set aside. With the rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 200C (400F). Spread the ham mixture evenly over the dough. Place the baking sheet next to the work surface, with a long side parallel to the edge of the counter or table.
Assembly:
Mentally divide the pie into 6 squares, 12 x 12 cm (5” x 5”) each. Working from left to right, lay 10 green asparagus spears side by side in the first square. In the next square, lay 10 white asparagus spears side by side, at right angles to the green asparagus. Repeat with the remaining squares, alternating colors and directions to create quilt effect. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven. Break egg onto each square. Bake for 10 minutes more. Cut into 6 squares and serve.
Adapted from: Ricardo Larrivée, ”Parce qu’on a tous de la visite” (La Presse, 10/2008)