May – Pickled Asparagus

May – Pickled Asparagus

I just can’t get enough of asparagus when it first comes into season! By the end of May I am looking for ways to preserve it for the rest of the year. Out of season asparagus is often shipped long distances and can be dry and lacking in that wonderful grassy flavor (not to mention enormously expensive and environmentally irresponsible). I want to take full advantage of the long spring season, there are so many ways of serving it. Have you ever thought of combining different cooking methods with the same vegetable? The combination of fresh asparagus and pickled ones in an inspiration. Think thinly sliced or finely chopped pickled spears combined with sour cream (or even better, creme fraiche) as a sauce for fresh asparagus cooked on the grill. You could add equal parts mayonnaise if you want. Serving it as a sauce elevates the vegetable to a new level. What about putting a poached egg on top, serving all on top of a slice of crisp toast? I could see a slice of crisped prosciutto somewhere in there as well or even a slice meaty bacon. Yum!

I am getting ahead of myself because a simple platter of grilled or roast asparagus with pickled asparagus sauce is delicious.

Roast Asparagus with Pickled Asparagus Sauce

But first you need the pickled asparagus. I have found jars in better grocery stores but they are the tiny grassy spears, and are quite costly. It is far easier to pickle your own when asparagus is in season.

For pickling you can use either thin or thicker spears, peel the ends of the thicker ones first. if you haven’t done this before you can find the tips here. I found large mouth quart canning jars so I could pickle the longest spears possible. But you can cut them into smaller pieces and use pint jars if that is all you have. Either way pack them with the tips up to preserve the shape as much as possible.

Start with 4 pounds of asparagus to ensure enough for 3 quarts. I purchased 3 large bunches, thinking it would be enough (it looked like an enormous amount) and was short a 1 quart container. You’ll need about 16 cups (hard to measure). At the end I had one unused sterile quart container and extra pickling solution…what to do? I found a head of celery in the fridge and remembered reading somewhere about the joys of pickled celery. Why not? Now I have a jar of pickled celery and will let you know how I like it.

Asparagus waiting to be pickled

If you have to buy your asparagus a day or two ahead, store them like flowers with the ends in cool water.

Pickled Asparagus

For 4 quarts:

Ingredients:

  • 6 1/2 cups of white wine or champagne vinegar
  • 3 1/2 cups of water
  • 3 tablespoons of kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 4 teaspoons of fennel seeds
  • 8 sprigs of fresh fennel fronds if available
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 whole garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • 16 cups of asparagus or 4 pounds

Method:

  1. First bring the water in your canning jar to a boil. I find this takes the longest and always start it at the very beginning of the canning process. You can use the water to scald 4 quart canning jars. Or, I find it easier to run them through the dishwasher, then place them open side down on a clean dishtowel until you are ready to fill them.
  2. In a dry small skillet, toast the fennel seeds on medium heat until they are turning golden brown and aromatic (about 1 minute). Remove and place on a plate to cool.
  3. Prepare the asparagus by measuring the length you will need for your jars, snap and peel the ends once the appropriate size. You really only need to peel the ends of medium or large asparagus stalks.
  4. Bring a large skillet of water to a boil. You will use this to blanch the asparagus. While it is coming to a boil, put a large bowl of ice water in the sink. Once it comes to a boil, add the asparagus in batches. Set a timer for 1 minute, then remove the stalks from the boiling water and drop them into the ice bath to cool quickly. Once cool, remove them to a clean dishtowel lined tray. Repeat as necessary until they are all blanched.
  5. In a pot bring the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar to a boil. This is your brine. Keep hot.
  6. In a small pot soak the lids in a pan of hot water to soften the seal.
  7. Now you are ready. Turn the jars right side up and add 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds, 1 bay leaf, and 2 garlic halves to each jar. Pack the asparagus in tightly, tips up.
  8. Carefully pour the hot brine over the asparagus in the jars. Leave about 1 inch of head space. Check for air pockets and add more liquid if needed. Wipe the rims, add the lids and screw on the bands until snug but not tight.
  9. Place the jars in the pot with the lid, add water to cover the jars (by about an inch if possible). Bring the water back to boil, cover, and process for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the jars for a few minutes. Remove the jars and let cool completely. Check to make sure the lid pops in, indicating proper canning.

And here is the lone jar of pickled celery.

Pickled Celery

The inspiration for this recipe came from The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant with Kate Leahy. It is probably one of my most used books on preserving.

I think I will take this as part of my recipe for asparagus with pickle sauce to the party at Fiesta Friday #226, it will be lovely as part of the buffet. You can find the link to Angie’s Fiesta Friday blog here. Follow the listed links at the bottom to any of the blogs that interest you. Angie’s cohost this week is Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook.

If you are a blogger yourself, please add your link to the list.

TGIF everyone!

 

 

May – Lentils and Roast Cauliflower with Almonds and Dates

May – Lentils and Roast Cauliflower with Almonds and Dates

This is a wonderful vegetarian or vegan main dish, or a side dish for a large party. It’s perfect when you have folks with different dietary needs, also being gluten and dairy free. And because it is served at room temperature, you can make it several hours ahead. It will only get more flavorful as the lentils absorb the tahini sauce. What more can you ask for? On one platter you have your greens, roasted vegetable and starch/protein. The dates add a sweet note while the almonds add crunch and even more protein.

I served this to a large gathering, the leftovers the next day were still yummy (and didn’t last long).

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Lentils with Roast Cauliflower, Chopped Dates, and Almonds

The original recipe came from Food and Wine, but it came to me about a year ago via one of the members of my book club. It’s been hanging out just waiting for the right time to make it.

I have given two measurements for the spices. The original recipe used the smaller amount but I found it was not sufficiently spiced for my taste. Cauliflower is quite mild and can absorb a lot of flavor.

This recipe serves 6-8

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 cup raw almonds
  • 1 cup beluga or green lentils, rinsed and checked for small stones
  • 1 head of cauliflower, cut into 1 inch florets
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin, briefly toasted in a dry frying pan
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • pinch of cayenne or red pepper flakes
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup
  • 10 dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups loosely packed arugula or baby spinach

METHOD:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the almonds on a pie plate or sheet pan and toast for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown. When cool, coarsely chop.
  2. Increase the oven to 425 degrees F.
  3. Meanwhile heat 2 cups of water in a saucepan, bring to a boil and add the lentils. Simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and cool.
  4. Prepare the cauliflower. On a rimmed baking sheet toss the cauliflower florets with 1/4 cup of olive oil, the spices (cumin, cinnamon, ginger, salt, pepper. Roast until tender and slightly browned, about 20-25 minutes. When cooked to your liking, remove from the oven and cool.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk the tahini with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil until smooth. Add the lemon juice, honey or maple syrup, and 2 tablespoons of water.  Mix well.
  6. Add the lentils to the bowl and toss to coat.
  7. On a large platter lay a bed of the lentils, top with the roasted cauliflower, dates, almonds, and sliced onion. Sprinkle the arugula or baby spinach on top and serve.

 

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May – Roast Asparagus with Pickled Asparagus Sauce

May – Roast Asparagus with Pickled Asparagus Sauce

Do you peel your asparagus? Except with the very youngest thin asparagus, you are wasting at least an inch of the flavorful vegetable if you are not. Most folks prepare asparagus by snapping the ends, which can remove as much as a third of the stalk. When it is peeled, by contrast, only about an inch is lost.

I use a vegetable peeler, supporting the stalk with a forefinger so it doesn’t snap prematurely. Peel the bottom third of the stalk, cutting a little deeper at the very end.

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Unpeeled Asparagus Stalks

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Peeled Stalks Ready to “Snap”

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Only About an Inch of Stalk is Lost

Then snap off the very end before cooking.

Save the ends, they make a wonderful asparagus broth for creme of asparagus soup. You can even pop a bag of them into the freezer for the future.

To oven roast asparagus, preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Lay the stalks in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet, spritz with a little olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Roast 12 minutes for medium sized stalks, it will be shorter for thinner stalks and slightly longer for larger ones.

Let them cool slightly and serve. It is absolutely ok to eat asparagus with your fingers, dipping the stalks into a savory sauce or melted butter. Asparagus is also good served at room temperature, making it perfect for a dinner party or large buffet. I have made it several hours ahead and added a sauce just before serving.

My current favorite is a mixture of pickled asparagus, mayonnaise and sour cream (or creme fraiche). There isn’t really a recipe. I mince pickled asparagus into fine dice using either my food processor or a knife. Combine it with an equal mix of the mayonnaise and sour cream. Taste, add salt or extra pickling liquid if needed. Adjust it to your own liking. You can make the sauce a day ahead, just store it in the fridge until ready to serve.

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Oven Roasted Asparagus with Asparagus Pickle Sauce

Serve extra sauce on the side. I usually leave a few spears “undressed” just in case there are folks who prefer it plain.

Follow the links to see my recipe for pickled asparagus.

I think I will take this to the party at Fiesta Friday #226, it will be lovely as part of the buffet. You can find the link to Angie’s Fiesta Friday blog here. Follow the listed links at the bottom to any of the blogs that interest you. Angie’s cohost this week is Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook.

If you are a blogger yourself, please add your link to the list.

TGIF everyone!

May – Sous vide asparagus

May – Sous vide asparagus

Yes, you can use your sous vide machine for vegetables. It isn’t the answer for all vegetables though, you do need to be selective. So far I have cooked carrots and asparagus with wonderful success. We usually grill or roast asparagus, and it is delicious that way. Asparagus cooked by sous vide is similar to steamed but with a wonderful crunch and intense asparagus flavor. All the vitamins are intact and that green grassy taste jumps into your mouth with every bite. And sous vide timing is very forgiving, you don’t have to worry if you are distracted for a few minutes. Roasted or steamed asparagus will overcook in 30 seconds; turning drab, mushy and unappealing. Limp asparagus is not attractive. Sous vide asparagus stays bright green and crisp, the stem just as tender at the tips.

Sous Vide Asparagus

Method:

  • Preheat the water with your sous vide machine to 185 degrees F (85 degrees C)
  • Encase the asparagus in a vacuum bag or large zip lock bag (you may want to put a teaspoon in the bottom of the bag first). Try to get the asparagus in one layer. If you need to use two bags, separate the asparagus by size.
  • Season as desired. For example lemon salt, butter, coconut oil, mint, slices of lemon, etc.

    Cyprus Citron Lemon Flake Sea Salt

  • If using vacuum, seal on the moist setting.

    Asparagus in Vacuum Bag

    • Once your water bath has heated to the appropriate temperature, add the asparagus to the hot water and set your timer for 10 minutes. Thicker spears may need to cook for longer, maybe 12 minutes. That is the reason for two bags if the spears in your bunch are different sizes. Squeeze the bottom of a spear to see if they are done to your liking.
    • Cut open the bag and slide the asparagus onto a plate. Or, cool in an ice bag for using cold or reheating later.

You may note that this bag does not have a teaspoon, big error. As the contents of the bag heat, the air expands, causing it to float. I had to put a weight on top to keep the asparagus under water. Next time I will add that teaspoon. Don’t make my mistake.

Sous Vide Asparagus

The photo is fuzzy because of the steam rising. We couldn’t wait for it to cool before eating. Yum!

February – Crispy Fried Brussels Sprouts

February – Crispy Fried Brussels Sprouts

Roasting is my preferred way of cooking Brussels sprouts, also cauliflower and many other vegetables. I have found that roasting at a high temperature produces a char that brings out their sweetness. You will find a basic recipe for oven roasting sprouts here.

Lately though, Brussels sprouts have been showing up as a first course on many restaurant menus. The preparations have been varied and include roasting, but also frying and even deep fat frying. The fried sprouts have been absolutely delicious! They arrive glistening with oil, the edges wonderfully crisp and charred to sweetness.

I had relegated fried sprouts as a dish to eat in restaurants, a special treat. However, after frying some bacon for another dish, I ended up with about 6 tablespoons of aromatic bacon fat. The crisper drawer had some sprouts, it was too good an opportunity to pass up. This is clearly not a vegetarian dish, but I think it would be just as wonderful made with coconut oil and a few slices of fresh ginger. I don’t consider this recipe deep fat fried, but the sprouts are cooked in a generous quantity of oil or fat.

Crispy fired Brussels sprouts

Crispy fired Brussels sprouts

There really isn’t a recipe, here are just a few tips and instructions.

Trim the bottoms of the sprouts and remove any discolored or limp leaves. Cut the sprouts in half if small, quarter them if larger. Save any loose leaves that fall off.

Heat the oil on medium high until quite hot, add the sprouts and any extra leaves. Cook until brown with charred spots. Keep the heat fairly high as you want them to brown quickly on the outside but still retain some crunch in the middle. This method was much faster than my usual roasting but it did require more attention. I grated some fresh lime zest over the top to cut the richness, and added a pinch of flaked sea salt to finish. They were amazing! Probably not something I would do every day because of the larger amount of fat, but I highly recommend this way of preparing them. The edges were crispy and had a satisfying char. They were very sweet and wonderfully flavored by the bacon fat. Restaurant quality!

Crispy fired Brussels sprouts

Crispy fired Brussels sprouts

Crispy fired Brussels sprouts, lime zest

Crispy fired Brussels sprouts, lime zest

I am taking this to share at Fiesta Friday #159, a virtual blogging party hosted by Angie. This weeks co-hosts are Zeba @ Food For The Soul and Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook

Click on the link to see all the yummy food the group has to share.