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Friday
Apr222011

Ode To Asparagus

I spotted Asparagus at the Union Square Greenmarket for the first time today. There were rumors that Asparagus had made an appearance on Wednesday, but the restaurants came early and bought all of them. Today, I would not be thwarted. I got to Lani's Farm at 7:30 this morning (they've got some of the best produce in the market) and spotted the plump, purplish green stalks standing there in all their Asparagus glory. The weather outside may say otherwise. But Spring is definitely here.

As soon as I got home, I sampled one of the raw Asparagus. It is delicious: bright, sweet and crunchy (and a little gritty--make sure you WASH your farmer's market asparagus well by soaking it a couple of times in cold water--this ain't no squeaky clean supermarket produce). There is absolutely no comparison between local, seasonal asparagus and the bland, imposter "Asparagus" you can find year-round. Local asparagus is bursting with asparagus-ness. It is the very definition of what it means to BE an asparagus.

Asparagus is only in season for about a month or so. So get to the Greenmarket (Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) and get there early! You've got to check these out. Luckily, there are many, many ways to cook and enjoy this vegetable. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Raw Asparagus Salad: Shave asparagus with a vegetable peeler (you'll need about 10 per person). Toss with very finely chopped shallot, lemon juice, crunchy sea salt and good, fruity olive oil. Top with shaved pecorino romano cheese.

Asparagus Crostini: Cut asparagus into 1-2 inch pieces and toss with olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast in 350 degree oven until tender. Cut thick slices from a baguette (about 1/4-1/2 inch). Fry on both sides in butter and olive oil until golden brown. Lay pieces of asparagus on crostini and top with a generous dollop of Burrata cheese. Drizzle with truffle oil if you're feeling crazy.

Asparagus and Poached Egg: Steam asparagus until just tender. Lightly fry an egg (I love Knoll Crest Farm's eggs at the market on Wednesday and Saturday) in olive oil until just set. Toss some arugula or other hearty green (watercress or frisee would work well) in good olive oil with some finely chopped shallots. Place asparagus on greens and lay fried egg on top. Sprinkle with some fresh herbs and sea salt.

Asparagus Soup Check out Emeril's recipe. It's fabulous.

Asparagus Risotto: Start making a traditional risotto. When you're 3/4 of the way through, stir in disks of roasted asparagus, sauteed shitake mushrooms and sauteed ramps. Finish off with lots of good parmesan cheese and butter.

Frozen Asparagus: You can preserve asparagus for a while (it'll take you through a good part of the summer). Blanch the asparagus, shock in ice water, then seal and place in freezer.
Friday
Feb182011

Deep Fried Revelation: Brussels Sprouts

Crispy Fried Brussels Sprouts next to Veal Tenderloin over Parsnip Puree

A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated a friend's birthday at a restaurant called the New French. The place is cute and the food is pretty good, though not anything particularly special. But we did have one side dish which blew my mind: Crispy Fried Brussels Sprouts.

They arrived in an oval ramekin, browned on the edges, liberally dusted with parmesan cheese and slivers of fried garlic. The flavor was unlike any Brussels I had ever had--in fact, if you closed your eyes you may even mistake them for a fried artichoke (one of the great things in life). On the outside, the leaves had separated and curled a bit and were very crispy. They dissolved in your mouth as soon as you bit down, as if they were the world's most delicate potato chip. And the inside was sweet and tender, so that you had a wonderful contrast of textures within the single bite.  They were totally addictive and totally delicious.

I was pretty excited about this. I've cooked Brussels Sprouts a thousand times but I've never thought of deep frying them. So a couple of weeks later we had some friends over for dinner and I tried to reproduce the dish. I failed.

I quartered the Sprouts and heated up some canola oil. Then, for some silly reason, I threw them all in the pan at once. Two things happened. First, I quickly learned that when you attempt to deep fry Brussels Sprouts, they cause the oil to aggressively sizzle and pop. So I got a nice splash of boiling hot canola oil on my face. Second, this is a dish that must be done in very small batches, as piling them all in there drops the oil temperature and destroys all hope of crispiness. I know this is a general rule of deep frying, but I usually get away with some degree of crowding. Apparently not in this case.

So what I ended up with was a soggy pile of oil-soaked Brussels, which, although very tasty, bore no resemblance whatsoever to those magnificent crispy nuggets I'd marveled at at the New French.

Last night I catered a 10 person dinner party and I decided to try the Brussels again. It was risky, but I just had to. This time, I had a splatter guard at the ready (basically a big, flat mesh lid with a handle that you place over the pan). I grabbed a generous handful of the quartered Sprouts and tossed them in. Just as before, the oil basically exploded. After about a minute and a half I peaked under the guard. The Sprouts had browned, crisped and curled beautifully. I took one out and tasted it; much to my surprise, the inside was cooked through and it was done. It was that fast. I pulled them all out, salted them, sprinkled them with freshly grated parmesan and repeated the process.

They were delicious. A huge hit. This is possibly my favorite preparation of this vegetable. I may never go back to roasting again...

Click here for the recipe.