That Divine French Sauce, Beurre Blanc, Stars in a Spring Meal

Scallops, Asparagus, Beurre Blanc 2 4032x3024This past week I taught two hands-on classes titled Paris Spring Cooking. The menu included artichoke soup, scallops with asparagus and peas napped with beurre blanc, and as sides a watercress and orange salad, and crispy rice cakes with Comté cheese. By far the technique that interested my students most was that of making the celebrated French sauce known as beurre blanc.

Beurre blanc (or white butter) is one of the simplest of France’s sauces, yet many cooks have never prepared it. It consists of two simple steps. First you add minced shallots, wine, and vinegar to a good sturdy saucepan. Then, cook the mixture until almost all of the liquid has evaporated. For the second step, you whisk in a tablespoon of cream and begin adding small pieces of softened butter while whisking vigorously. The trick is to never let the butter melt completely, but rather keep it at a sauce-like consistency. When all the butter has been incorporated, the sauce can be transferred in its saucepan to a skillet of warm water to keep it from solidifying. Continue reading

A Delicious Pizza for Warming Spring Days

This week in the supermarket, I had a eureka moment while standing in front of a display of sleek, slim bundles of asparagus. Why not turn the tempting spears into a topping for pizza instead of using them as a side dish or tossing them with strands of cooked pasta– my usual methods of cooking this spring vegetable.

Within minutes, I had a plan. At the cheese counter I chose a piece of Taleggio, a soft creamy Italian cheese that melts beautifully. A package of those sweet little cippolini onions beckoned as well, especially since they were being sold peeled. To round out the toppings, I decided on brown (cremini) mushrooms. Continue reading

What’s a Cook to Serve in Unpredictable Weather

Spring is officially underway, but New England hasn’t gotten the memo. Temperatures here recently climbed to 70, accompanied by clear, blue skies, and then fell suddenly to the 20s with a daylong snowfall. Each morning this week I’ve checked the weather even before my texts and email (a first!), debating what to wear. And, of course, I wonder what to cook! For a small dinner we hosted for out-of- town friends this weekend, I spent as much time planning the menu as preparing it. In the end the night’s dishes reflected this transitional time of year, satisfying yearnings for both cold and warm weather fare.

Our opener—gnocchi alla romana with roasted asparagus–was a good example.
The gnocchi, assembled Roman style with farina rather than potatoes, are enriched with Parmesan and butter, cut into rounds, and then baked. Served piping hot atop bundles of asparagus, they seemed to welcome spring and acknowledge winter at the same time. Continue reading

Asparagus in a Starring Role

Grilled Asparagus with Gribiche 2 3648x2736My husband, who has taught at Amherst College for over two decades, is crazy about his students. During their four years at the school, he gets to know these young people well, teaching, advising, and mentoring them throughout their stays. So, when graduation arrives each year, we plan a champagne celebration to honor those he has worked with closely. This past weekend we hosted four students and their families at a fete for 25. Smoked salmon with lemon-scented crème fraîche, capers, and shallots, cantaloupe wedges marinated in a syrup scented with mint and Pernod, a plate of cheeses garnished with sage and plump cherries, goat cheese hazelnut phyllo tartlets, and a platter of grilled asparagus served with a special mayo were on the menu. Although our guests ate everything enthusiastically, hands down the asparagus were the hit of the party!

The recipe for Grilled Asparagus with Gribiche is from The Fat Radish, a new cookbook by Ben Towill and Phil Winser, owners, and Nick Wilber, chef, of the popular NYC restaurant of the same name. Gribiche is a classic French mayonnaise that includes chopped hard-boiled eggs, capers, and pickles. But for their version, this trio simplified the sauce using purchased mayo and seasoning it with grainy mustard, lemon juice, and chives. It took me 10 minutes to prepare this sauce the day before. An hour before our party I cooked the spears in batches on a stovetop grill pan until charred and tender. If you pull out your grill, you’ll be able to cook them even more efficiently. Continue reading

When the Side Dish Shines at the Easter Table

Roasted Asparagus and Radishes 2 3339x2656My son, who is in charge of our family’s Easter dinner this Sunday, has called me three times the past week to discuss the menu. He has dismissed ham (last year’s centerpiece) as well as lamb (our main the year before), and was contemplating grilled salmon a few days ago. Today he announced that pasta with lobster and fresh peas in a cream sauce would anchor the meal. Whether this latest remains the plat du jour or not is anybody’s guess. What is certain is a side dish that I plan to bring of roasted asparagus and radishes scented with a light Asian-style sauce.

Several years ago at a summer dinner, I tasted roasted radishes for the first time when friends served them as a side to grilled fish. The radishes had lost their peppery quality, and tasted more like petit turnips. Scented with sesame oil, they made a unique and delicious vegetable garnish. When I decided to roast asparagus for Easter, I remembered those radishes and decided to pair them with the green spears. Continue reading

Asparagus Star in A Delicious Soup

Brodo with Asparagus, Gnocchi, and Blue Cheese 1 1515x1368What I love about cooking in France is that the French are real sticklers for using seasonal ingredients. There’s no way you’d see asparagus in their groceries in the winter. (In my supermarkets at home, sadly I don’t have to look hard to find non-local asparagus from Chile displayed throughout the cold weather months.) In Paris bundles of the long, sleek spears appear only in late spring and early summer. And what a glorious scene they make— verdant-hued stalks, tender, petite wild asparagus, and snowy- hued white varieties take center stage at les primeurs (produce stores).

Since arriving several weeks ago, I’ve taken advantage of this bounty. At first, I used the stalks as a side to sautéed lamb chops or roast chicken, but then I got more imaginative and included them in a delicious brodo. Continue reading

Springing Forward with a Delicious Asparagus Soup

Asparagus Soup with Lemon Creme Fraiche 2According to the calendar, spring officially arrived several weeks ago, but you’d never know it from our weather here in New England. Yes, we had a few days where the temperature actually reached into the fifties, but mostly it’s been damp and cold, and no one is rushing to put away their winter gear.

Even though it’s still hovering in the low forties outside, I’m tired of winter cooking and ready to spring forward in my kitchen. This week, for instance, I made an ethereally smooth asparagus and leek soup, lightened it with lemon-scented crème fraîche, then added a sprinkle of snipped chives.

The soup turned out to be ideal for this transitional time of the year.  Continue reading

Asparagus and Mushroom Tarts

These elegant tarts look as if they take far more expertise to produce than the simple effort that is required. Using purchased puff pastry is what makes them so easy and quick to assemble. Count on 15 minutes to make the filling, and five for cutting out the puff pastry squares. Both the squares and the filling can be prepared several hours ahead so that at serving time you will need only to spoon the asparagus/ mushroom melange onto the pastries, and then bake them for 20 minutes. Serve the tarts as a first course or offer then with a green salad for a summer lunch or light supper.

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Risotto with Spring Asparagus and Scallops

Among the more challenging dishes for home cooks is the ever-popular risotto. It requires patiently standing at the stove, slowly stirring simmering stock into a saucepan of sautéed aborio rice and onions. As the stock is added, a little at a time, the grains start to expand and soon absorb the flavorful liquid. For a typical recipe, you can count on about 20 minutes for this process. Continue reading