Posts Tagged ‘seasonal cooking’

Creamed Asparagus on Toast

May 27, 2016
Creamed Asparagus on Toast

Creamed Asparagus on Toast

June Freels farmed acres of asparagus at the edge of Butler County where Ohio bumps into Indiana. Just minutes into the rolling countryside west of Oxford, I turned into her long dirt drive and pulled up to the farmhouse. June bounded out the back door and headed for the barn where an old fridge held the day’s picking. “Just had creamed asparagus on toast for lunch,” she chirped as she doled out my ten-pound order. I handed her a twenty, patted the doggie admired the blooming lilac and drove back to town. . .

Creamed asparagus, or asparagus served in a light white sauce was once the most common way to serve the spring bounty. Back then no one roasted, grilled or shaved raw asparagus into salad. It was invariably well cooked and sauced, served on country tables where the green spears were often foraged in spring from fencerows, ditch banks and along train tracks. Restaurants opted for fancier Hollandaise sauce, but our old béchamel (first of the mother sauces) held forth for everyday fare. A little butter, a little flour plus warm milk whisked up in minutes makes a light gravy to bind tender, sweet asparagus. A sprinkle of fresh dill if it’s in the garden, a twist of pepper and a slice of crisp buttered toast make this a comforting vegetarian lunch. Add a welcome boiled egg to lift the humble dish.

The asparagus time of year is here again with abundant bundles on offer in all our Midwestern farmers’ markets. Here near Chicago we often see the purple variety which has become my first choice for flavor. I always opt for the thick stalks which grow from mature roots; they’re the sweetest and most tender. Every now and then it’s fun to fold some fresh asparagus into a white sauce, spoon it over a slice of crusty sour dough toast, and tip a fork into a taste memory worth bringing back.

Creamed Asparagus on Toast

2 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 ½ cups milk (warmed in microwave or saucepan)

salt, freshly grated nutmeg and freshly ground pepper

fresh dill or parsley, lemon juice (optional)

1 pound fresh asparagus

2 soft-center hard-boiled eggs

4 slices toast (peasant or sourdough bread if possible)

Melt butter in heavy saucepan. Whisk in flour and stir for a minute to cook the flour. Whisk in hot milk and simmer to form a smooth sauce. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Taste to correct seasoning; add a few drops fresh lemon juice if desired. Set aside.

Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Trim any tough ends from the asparagus and diagonally cut into half-inch slices (you should have 4 cups). Salt the boiling water generously and blanch the asparagus for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Make sure to cook it a bit longer than the ‘crisp-tender’ stage. Reserve half a cup of the cooking water and drain the asparagus.

Warm the white sauce and thin it if necessary with some of the cooking water. Add the drained asparagus and heat it through. Fold in a tablespoon of chopped fresh dill or parsley.

Spoon the creamed asparagus over warm, buttered toast and garnish each serving with quarters of boiled egg. Sprinkle with flaky salt, cracked pepper and fresh mint, parsley or chives. Serves 4.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Red Currant Jam

July 18, 2014
Red Currants

Red Currants

Summer berries line up in little square boxes tempting us like precious jewels. Strawberries are gone from our farmers’ market, and we now see red, black or golden raspberries, and blueberries. The fairest and costliest of all are red currants. They glisten, tiny bright red berries on slender green stems; a mini-box for three dollars will scarcely make a pudding for two. By chance I recently had permission to clean a fruit-laden red currant bush. After an hour of careful picking, I came home with two pounds of loot and a profound appreciation for the tedious work.

Whenever we mention red currants, there’s confusion about the dry currant and the fresh currant. Fresh currants and dry Zante currants are not related in any way except by name, which is basically a misnomer. The Zante currants we add to cakes are dried small seedless raisins originally from the Greek island of Zakynthos. Once called Corinthian raisins, the name was soon shortened to currants.

In America the only place we commonly see red currants is in currant jelly used to glaze red fruit tarts, or in Cumberland sauce for ham. The most famous of all red currant preserves is the French Bar le Duc, known as the most expensive jam in the world. To create this preserve women use goose quills to remove the small seeds from each red berry. If you’re lucky enough to have a box of fresh currants, here’s a simple method to bring the flavor of this exquisite jam to your own table.

Red Currant Jam

Red Currant Jam

Red Currant Jam

1 lb. fresh red currants

14 oz. (2 cups) sugar

Rinse red currants, no need to remove stems. Film the bottom of a heavy pot with water, about 2 oz. (¼ cup). Add currants, cover and cook on medium heat until berries have burst. Cool slightly and pass the fruit through a food mill using a disk with small holes. Measure the resulting puree. If you have a pound, or two cups, of fruit puree, you will need the full two cups of sugar to make a tart jam.

Scald two 10-12 oz. jam jars with twist-on vacuum lids. Keep the jars and lids hot in a small pan of shallow simmering water. Return the currant puree to the jam pot; bring to a boil; add sugar; stir to dissolve and return to a boil. Boil steadily for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, for a firm jam, and just over 4 minutes for a softer preserve. (At this point you may check for the set by seeing if the jam coats a spoon or by dropping a half-teaspoon onto a cold saucer. Currants are high in pectin and the jam should set up quickly.) If the jam seems runny, boil another minute.

Remove from heat and skim any foam (save for your toast), and, using a canning funnel, ladle the hot preserve into the hot jars. Wipe the tops of the jars clean if any jam has dripped. Lift the hot lids from the water and screw on immediately. Allow the jam to cool to room temperature (during which time the lids should “pop” to show a seal.) To be on the safe side, refrigerate jam until ready to use.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon