Archive for May, 2011

Asparagus Risotto

May 30, 2011

When I was a child, I thought asparagus was wild. It grew along ditch banks and fencerows. We went out with paring knives and returned with big, brown bags full of spring spears. We cooked it simply and ate plates of tender asparagus slathered with home-churned, salty butter. Little did I know then what a bounty I had.

Now we see asparagus in the supermarket all the time. In the winter it’s shipped in from Peru with floppy tops and woody stems. We should all know better than to buy that out of season produce when May and June bring us the best asparagus in the world from nearby farmlands. This is the time to eat asparagus everyday, in every way we can think of. We’ll have our fill now and pass by the sorry  imported variety the rest of the year.

After a couple weeks of quickly cooked, crisply sweet plain asparagus drizzled with just a touch of butter or good olive oil, I’m ready for an asparagus risotto. Asparagus, rice, chicken stock, butter and Parmesan cheese all come together for a classic, comforting supper.

Asparagus Risotto

12 oz. fresh asparagus (no woody ends)

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 oz. peeled onion (3/4 cup chopped)

2 minced cloves garlic

1 cup Arborio or other round grain rice

1 ½  cups chicken stock + 1 ½ cups water

¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

chopped fresh mint or parsley

Cut the top 1½ inches off the asparagus and set aside. Cut the rest of the spears into ½ inch slices (should have 1 ½ to 2 cups).

In a heavy pot melt 1 tablespoon butter and the olive oil. Gently sauté the chopped onion (cover with butter wrappers to encourage softening).

Bring the stock and water to a boil. Add the reserved asparagus tops, cook 2 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and set lightly cooked tips aside; keep the stock hot.

When the onion has softened, add garlic, rice, sliced stems and a generous pinch of salt. Stir and cook 2-3 minutes. Use a 4 oz. ladle or a ½ cup measure to add stock to the rice mixture, one ladle at a time. Stir in the stock and allow the rice to absorb all the liquid. Stir from time to time. Once the stock has been absorbed, add another ladle and repeat this process until most of the liquid has been used and the rice is almost tender. (It’s not necessary to stand over the cooking rice but stir occasionally.)

The rice is done when there’s still a slight bite at the center (after about 20 minutes).  It should not have a hard core, nor should it turn to mush. When the rice is ready, stir in the asparagus tips. Add the last tablespoon of butter and half the Parmesan cheese. Turn off the heat, fold in the butter, cheese, asparagus, mint or parsley and loosen the mixture with the last of the hot stock. Taste for salt. When serving, make sure the rice is tender and loose (add a bit of hot water if all the stock’s been used). Mound the risotto letting a little broth pool at the edge. Twist over some freshly ground pepper, sprinkle with grated Parm and chopped mint. Serves 2 as a main course and 3-4 as a side.

Note: For a satisfying simple soup, thin and simmer leftover risotto with chicken stock. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and some more mint just before serving.

                                                                              Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at


Radishes and Butter

May 19, 2011

The photograph of a young boy eating radishes on a chunk of buttered baguette inspired me to plant radishes. I’d wait to taste them, crisp and peppery, freshly pulled from the earth. Supermarket radishes, often apple-sized and pithy, never thrilled me, but the white tipped, garden variety ready only for a couple of weeks in the spring would be worth an effort.

Most of my radish harvesting has been disappointing. In spite of the radish’s ability to sprout early and grow quickly, I usually reap leafy tops with miniscule roots. Or the root maggots bore holes in my crop before I get to them. But this year, a long, cool spring and the sandy soil of my community plot are giving me radishes of my dreams.  Small tufted green tops and rosy shoulders peek out of the soil. They may be small radishes, but they’re perfect, and a few each day give us the first garden fresh bites of home grown produce.

Radishes are said to strengthen the body. An inscription on the Great Pyramid in Egypt reports that slaves who built this monument ate great quantities of radishes and onions. Members of the cruciferous plant family, close to turnips and mustards, and known to sustain our immune systems, radishes pop up in every cultivating culture around the globe. They grow large and small; they’re eaten raw and cooked; and in Oaxaca, Mexico a major festival features the radish each December.

This season I’ll enjoy my radishes with bread, butter and a pinch of flaky Maldon salt, and when all I have is a bunch of leafy tops, I’ll make Radish Greens Soup.

                                                                            Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at

Crepes Fitz

May 8, 2011

Home ovens are relatively new on the kitchen scene. Long before our grandparents were sliding cake pans into insulated baking boxes,they were content with frying pans. Sometimes we forget the tasty bits of baking we can turn out of a skillet. Beyond traditional American pancakes, we have English muffins, griddle scones, latkes, blintzes and French crepes. Any number of sweet and savory batters can be baked in a frying pan with minimal energy, little skill and fast preparation.

Crepes aren’t fancy food, they’re simply pancakes. You’ll need a reliable pan, and once you start pulling perfect crepes off the shining surface, you’ll find it fun. With a few crepes on hand when the strawberries come in, you can have a dessert straight from New Orleans. Rolled around a ribbon of cream cheese and covered with warm sweetened berries, Crepes Fitzgerald will be welcome on your table any day of the week.

Crepes Fitzgerald

2 eggs

½ cup (scooped) all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter

½ cup milk

2 tablespoons water

To make 12 medium crepes: whisk eggs with flour and salt. Blend in oil or butter and gradually beat in milk. Cover and allow batter to stand at least an hour (or overnight in the fridge). Thin batter with 2 tablespoons water before cooking.

Heat a crepe pan or no-stick skillet until drops of water dance over the surface. Very lightly butter the pan and begin to ladle in the batter 2–3 tablespoons at a time. Swirl, flip and cook second side. Continue to cook the cakes, but there should be no need to butter the pan again.  Stack crepes on a plate to cool.

2 ounces cream cheese

2 tablespoons sour cream

2 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons water

1 pound strawberries, sliced (3 cups)

Mix softened cream cheese with sour cream. Fill 6–8 crepes with strips of the cheese mixture the size of a stick of gum and roll each crepe like a blintz (or a small burrito). Set aside at room temperature or cover with foil and place in a warm oven.

Melt the butter in a large shallow skillet; stir in sugar and cook briefly. Add water and boil quickly to a thick syrup. Gently stir in strawberries and spoon the hot sauce over the filled crepes. Serves 4.

                                                                         Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at