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Close Up of Asparagus Tips
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A Bunch of Asparagus, 1880,
Formerly in the Collection of Painter Max Liebermann
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La Belle Cuisine
A Shower of Springtime Flavors
By Alain Ducasse
The New York Times, April 10, 2002
This is the seventh of eight columns by Alain Ducasse...
being written with Florence Fabricant.
arrival of wild asparagus, which has an incomparable flavor and an aroma
that suggests young leeks, tells me that spring is here. In France its
season is fleeting; in fact, it is already over. So from April to June, I
use the cultivated
variety, which I love when the spears are big and fat,
cooked to melting
tenderness, then showered with petals of Parmesan.
Asparagus has many dimensions, allowing the cook to offer several textures
and subtle shadings of flavor on the same plate. In my restaurant in Paris,
spread raw and roasted spears on a bed of asparagus purée and use it as
underpinning for breaded veal medallions sautéed Milanese style.
That same idea can make an excellent first course: just replace the veal
small asparagus custard, a classic preparation called a royale. It's
as green as springtime, easily made and suitable for
Buy fresh green asparagus of medium thickness, peel off only the thinnest
then cook about half the stalks until they are soft enough to purée.
The rest, after you have separated the tips from the stalks, will be divided
between cooked and raw. The asparagus purée is the basis for the custard,
which needs only eggs, salt and pepper. Didier Elena, my chef de cuisine
in New York, uses ceramic espresso cups
to bake the custards so they can
unmolded in a tiny dome shape, but any small ramekin will do.
Some purée is combined with minced raw asparagus. Cooked spears and
of raw ones are placed all around the plate. As a garnish, we use
or a truffle vinaigrette, but a touch of good balsamic
will also do the trick. You could even put the whole thing in a soup
and surround it with an asparagus broth made by thinning some of
with a very light chicken stock.
With this dish, pour white wine with good acidity. My sommelier, Pieter
Verheyde, likes the whites from southwestern France or a pinot blanc from
Italy or the North Fork of Long Island."
Asparagus Three Ways
(Raw, Cooked, Puréed)
Time: 1 hour
Yield: 4 servings
2 pounds asparagus, medium thickness
1/2 tablespoon butter
1 whole egg
2 egg yolks
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons crushed black truffles or
1 tablespoon black olive paste or
tablespoon genuine balsamic vinegar
at least 50 years old.
1. Snap off ends of asparagus stalks where they break
naturally. Discard ends. Peel asparagus. Select 16 of the most uniform and
thickest spears and set aside. Cut remaining stalks in half, place in a
saucepan of well-salted water and simmer until very tender, about 5 minutes.
Drain, and purée in food processor or blender. You should have about 1 1/4
2. Heat oven to 250 degrees [F]. Lightly butter 4 small round
ovenproof containers, preferably 3- to 4-ounce size. Porcelain ramekins or
cups, heatproof glass bowls or tiny nonstick muffin or dariole molds
3. Combine 2/3 cup purée with egg and egg yolks. Season to
taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to buttered molds. Place molds in a
baking dish, and
add simmering water to come halfway up sides of molds. Bake
or until custards are set and surface is fairly firm to the
from oven, leaving molds in water bath.
4. While custards bake, cut a 2-inch-long piece from the tip
of each reserved asparagus stalk. Cut each tip piece in half lengthwise,
place in a saucepan of salted water, bring to a simmer and cook until just
tender, about 2 minutes. Drain, and set aside on absorbent paper.
5. Using a vegetable peeler, shave 4 or 5 ribbons lengthwise
from remaining pieces of stalk, leaving center portion intact. Place ribbons
in a bowl of ice water. Mince centers no larger than peppercorns. Fold
into remaining purée, and season to taste with salt and
6. Beat vinegar and oil together but not enough to emulsify
completely. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add truffles, olive paste
or balsamic vinegar, and stir lightly to combine but not blend thoroughly.
Vinaigrette should remain somewhat broken.
7. To serve, spoon asparagus purée with minced raw asparagus
in a circle in center of each of 4 large salad plates. Unmold custards on
top of purée. Surround each with 8 cooked halved asparagus tips, cut side
down, like spokes of a wheel. Drain raw asparagus ribbons and pat dry.
Scatter over cooked tips, and pose one that's nicely curled on each custard.
Drizzle vinaigrette on plate around asparagus.
2002 The New York Times Company, used with permission
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