Asparagus, mint and lemon risotto

Asparagus, mint and lemon risotto

A really posh risotto!  Uncle Jamie gave me the flavour ideas for this one…. but it has been altered somewhat. (Muddified, as they say!)

Prep:           1o mins.

Cooking:      30 mins.

Course:        Lunch, Main

Serves:        4

Rating:         2: Easy

Find:

  • Up to a litre of veggie stock
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 300g risotto rice
  • 1 small clove garlic (no more)
  • 150ml vermouth or dry white wine
  • 2 bunches of asparagus
  • 100g butter
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Big bunch of fresh mint leaves
  • Chopped parsley
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Smoked salmon trimmings or mushrooms to sprinkle on the top?

Method:

  • Snap off the ends of the asparagus, then finely chop your asparagus stalks into little 5mm thick discs, keeping the spear tips whole. (Don’t throw the asparagus ends away – see Tricks’n’Tips!)
  • Put onion, garlic and celery into a processor and blitz.
  • Bring the stock to a simmer in a saucepan and keep it on low until process is finished .
  • Put the olive oil and butter in a separate large pan, add the onion and celery and cook very gently for about 15 minutes, without colouring, until soft.
  • Turn up the heat to max and add the rice and a little more butter just to help things along.  This is when you have to be careful to keep it all on the move or it will stick and be knackered with a capital F.
  • Quickly pour in the vermouth or wine. Keep stirring!
  • Turn the heat down to minimum now.  Add the stock to the rice a ladle at a time, stirring and waiting until it has been fully absorbed before adding the next. Turn the heat down to medium so the rice doesn’t cook too quickly, and continue to add ladles of stock until it has all been absorbed. This should take about 15-20 minutes.
  • Pour in the rest of the stock and all of the asparagus. Bring it all to the boil, then turn the right heat down to simmer until almost all the stock has been absorbed. You may need to add a little boiling water soon – have it ready.
  • Turn off the heat; beat in the butter and Parmesan, chopped mint leaves (not stalks), almost all the lemon zest and all the juice.
  • Season to taste.  It may start to become a little thick in texture; if so, a splash or two of boiling water and a gentle stir will help loosen it.
  • Serve it quickly with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of chopped parsley and a slice of lemon.
  • Have something ready to go on top.  Shredded smoked salmon?  Cooked wild mushrooms?  Toasted pine nuts?

Jamie has some good ideas, eh?

He’s got lots of books out – ask Santa for one or two!

Asparagus tarts

Photo:  Chris Wiles Photgraphy

Asparagus tarts        

(I said TARTS…. Are you friggin’ deaf?):

A wonderful starter.

The instructions are a little lengthy, but it’s worth it in the end.

Prep:           15 mins.

Cooking:      30 mins.

Course:        Starter

Serves:        8 – so for two people just use a quarter of the recipe – except that you won’t buy a quarter of the pastry, so you just have to invite more people round – or eat more!

Rating:         3:  Moderate

Find:-

  • 4 x 8 = 32 asparagus spears (according to thickness and budget), with a few spares ready, ‘just in case’. See the text about buying your asparagus. (If you buy 40 and all turn out perfectly, you can put 5 spears on each tart – bonus)
  • 1 pack ready-made puff pastry
  • Plain flour for rolling out
  • 2 red onions – white/yellow if necessary but red onions are generally nicer.
  • 1 egg
  • Oil
  • Butter
  • A little Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on just before baking (optional).
  • Potato peeler
  • Frying pan
  • Rolling pin or alternative
  • Baking tray

Method:

Take the ready-made puff pastry out of the fridge at least a couple of hours before you start to do anything as it needs to be at room temperature.

At the same time, ensure that you have enough asparagus spears.  3-4 for each tart (2 or 3 if they are thick spears), one or two tarts per person for the starter.  Have a few spare as well because you may well have some casualties in the process.

Processing the asparagus spears:

Asparagus tells you where it starts to become woody in its stem because as you bend it, it snaps.  That determines its useable length.  Trouble is, they all need to be equal length.  If it’s all the same batch of asparagus there should be no problem, but they may not be.  Try to buy the same length and thickness of asparagus in the same packaging – that’ll help.

  • Trim all the asparagus to the same length. (Don’t throw the cut ends away! – see later.)
  • Using a potato peeler, peel the outer skin from the asparagus below the spear itself. Don’t decimate it, just peel lightly and sensitively – it makes the asparagus much more tender when it is eaten.  Don’t throw away the peelings or the trimmed-off stems – they can be used for veg stock or asparagus soup later on (asparagus is too friggin’ expensive to bin any waste – see later).

Blanching the asparagus:

  • Have a bowl of iced water ready. Boil the kettle.
  • Pour the boiling water from the kettle into a large saucepan. Lightly salt it.  Bring it back to the boil and plunge the asparagus into the boiling water and keep on the high heat for 1 minute.
  • After 1 minute, use a draining spoon (if you have one) to lift the asparagus out of the pan and plunge it all into the iced water. You may need to do this in several batches, in which case have freshly iced water ready for each batch.  Use the same boiling water for all batches.
  • At the end, don’t tip away the hot water; it can be used as the base for the stock of soup. Don’t waste taste! (Asparagus is too friggin’ expensive to bin any waste – including the blanching water).  Ok, asparagus duly blanched.  I know, it’s a friggin’ phaph to do, but it’s all worth it in the end.

Onions:  

Now for the onion confit to go under the asparagus.

  • Peel and very thinly slice both of the red onions – no, thinner than that.

STOP! 

Sharpen your cook’s knife. 

  • Ok, now REALLY THINLY slice the onions. No, don’t chop them, thinly slice them.  That’s better.  Your knife skills are improving……..you’s a’doin’ ok now.
  • Put the frying pan onto the heat, oil it and add a knob of butter.
  • Turn it down to a medium heat and put in the sliced onions.
  • Gently sauté the onions (low-ish heat, gently frying, keeping them moving to spread the cooking….) without colouring them. Gently does it.  They need to be quite well cooked but not at all browned.    Almost transparent.  It’ll take quite a time if you are doing it right – probably 15 minutes.  Don’t leave the pan on the heat and go to the loo or answer the door – if you must go away, turn out the heat.
  • When the onions have got to the stage where they are almost see-through, pop them into a dish and put them aside, ready for the fiddly assembly process….and don’t you keep tasting ‘em to see if they’re ok. I know they are rather nice and sweet and they taste very nice – but we need some left for the tarts, dammit.

Pastry:

  • Sprinkle some flour onto a cleared, thoroughly cleaned and dried large area of kitchen surface.
  • Take the inch-thick block of puff pastry out of its packet and plop it onto the floured area. I didn’t say DROP it! Now clear up where all the flour has landed!
  • Flour the top of the pastry. Use the rolling pin (or substitute) to roll out the pastry away from you then towards you.  It should have expanded into an oblong whilst becoming thinner.
  • Pick up the pastry, turn it through 90 degrees on the board, and then turn it over, trapping some of the flour under it.
  • Lightly flour the top of the pastry. The oblong that you made should now be orientated the other way around.
  • Roll again and make it go back into a square.
  • Repeat this several times until the pastry is about 4-5mm thick. You should be able to get 8 tarts out of the pack of pastry.  Use a spear of asparagus to help you measure the right size of pastry to get 8 tarts, each to take 4 spears and to leave about 10mm all around the edge of each.
  • Alternatively, buy it ready rolled out. It comes in a long roll.  It’s dead easy then.

Assembly:

  • Cut the pastry into the 8 oblong tart shapes but leave them all where they are – do not move them.
  • Score the pastry one centimetre from the edge. This scored border line allows the pastry to rise  – see the diagram for exactly what to do.

DIAGRAM

  • Using a teaspoon, spread the onion confit (that you so cleverly, skilfully and wonderfully made earlier) evenly over the centre of the pastry of each tart inside the scored line, leaving a clear 1cm edge on each without onion. The confit can be about 4 mm thick if you have enough.  Season each onion patch with coarsely ground black pepper.  Lay 3, 4 or 5 spears on each tart, atop the onion confit, according to how many you have and the thickness of the spears.
  • Of course, if you want to make one big round tart, just unroll your pastry, still on its paper and lay it onto a round tin.

DIAGRAM

Eggwash:

  • Take the egg, break it into a mug and whisk it with a fork. I doubt that you’ll have a pastry brush (if you have, use it) so use a teaspoon and spoon a little of the egg wash onto the edges of the tarts, spreading it with a very carefully washed forefinger all over each of the four edges of each of the eight tarts.  Try to use it all.  Don’t waste it; it cost money.  Sprinkle just a little finely grated parmesan cheese over the stems of the asparagus on each tart.
  • Using the knife, slide under one tart and ease it away from the rest. Be gentle.  Do this to each of the remaining seven tarts.  Don’t lift any up as yet – of course, if you are doing one big round tart, there’s no cutting, no lifting – in fact no tarting about at all!

Baking: 

  • Pre-heat the oven to gas Mk 5. Carefully transfer each of the eight tarts (using a broad knife, or a fish slice, or a spatula, or….)  to an oiled baking tray.  You can bake them on baking paper instead, oiled and put onto a baking sheet.
  • Bake them for 20 minutes. Inspect to see if they have puffed and golden brown edges.  If not, bake for a little longer.
  • Serve on heated plates with a little Hollandaise sauce if possible. Don’t try to make Hollandaise sauce at the moment; it’s a bit tricky – you are still learning.    What a starter it is.

Bacon wrapped asparagus bunches:

Photo:  Chris Wiles Photgraphy

Bacon wrapped asparagus bunches:

Prep:           10 mins.

Cooking:      10 mins.

Course:        Starter or side dish

Serves:        6

Rating:         3:  Moderate

 

Well, on the surface, quite basically, it’s just asparagus wrapped in bacon – or so it may seem……….  but let me just tell you a little story before telling you how to cook it….

As a young but fully qualified (and probably fairly arrogant and know-it-all) Motor Vehicle Technician, back in the early 70’s, I was called to a rather posh broken-down car in a rich Leicestershire village early one morning.  The starter motor ‘bendix drive’ had stuck, as they did quite often in those days.  All I needed to do to get the car going and let the customer get to work was to smartly clout the starter motor with a copper mallet – a standard trade trick of the time.  It usually worked a treat.  Instant success.  However, on this occasion the owner didn’t want to pay the bill as he said that he had done that before calling me out, and so he’d probably loosened it.  My reply was quite considered, (actually very well-rehearsed) and quite succinct.

“It’s not just ‘hitting the starter with a hammer’ that does the trick, Sir.  It’s knowing where to strike it, with which implement, in which direction and how hard “. 

He begrudgingly paid up.  It was a stock answer to a stock situation, even then, he still reported me for being gobby.   Well, I suppose I was.   Ne’mind!

Yes, you guessed it – I got a rocketing from my Service Manager – and then a knowing wink.

So, likewise, it’s not just wrapping the asparagus in bacon that will ensure your success as a flash git, it’s how you wrap it, what you wrap it around and what you use to wrap it, etc.

And so to the chase……

What you’ll need (as a posh starter) for 6 people:

  • A bunch of asparagus – fairly obvious really, but for this, you’ll need quite robust asparagus. Thin local-grown English asparagus is great for quick butter sautéing (cor, does the really fresh local English produce taste so nice) or for asparagus spear tarts, but for this flash git version you’ll ideally need the thicker stuff.  Late season English; or even better, the South American – probably Peruvian – asparagus works best.  Allocate three or four fat spears per person for a starter.
  • 250g Streaky bacon – smoked or ‘green’ (unsmoked); no matter, whichever you prefer. This should be in long strips, so that it can be wound around the asparagus.
  • Butter – perhaps a little garlic butter left over from doing garlic bread? – see Tricks’n’Tips.

Method:

  • Asparagus is easy to prepare. Don’t cut it; break it.
  • Feel your way along the stem between the finger and thumb of both hands, bending each spear carefully to discover where it naturally snaps. You will, of course, want to retain as much of the expensive vegetable as possible, so start at the cut end and find out where it snaps.  This way you’ll get the best of the spear and avoid the stringy bit – but don’t bin the end that you cut off; keep it by for now.  You can make soup from it using the blanching water and the peelings as well.  You may be a flash git in the making, but you can also be an economical and, if necessary, quite frugal (in other words, tight as a duck’s arse) flash git.
  • If the spears are thick enough, carefully peel (with a potato peeler, not a knife) the very outer skin from the lower stems, below the knobbly bits, retaining the peelings for soup/stock, as above.
  • Wipe the spears dry with kitchen roll and smear them with the butter or garlic butter.
  • Bunch two or three spears together and start winding on the bacon from just below the knobbly bits, down to the broken ends, avoiding any further overlap if possible on the way down, covering the stem without gaps. It may take two strips, depending on length of asparagus and/or bacon strips.
  • Lay them onto a plate or into a container for cooking just before needed. Keep the prepared spears cool – and don’t let anyone see them as they’ll be SUCH a surprise when you bring them out looking gorgeous.  Yo, man.
  • When almost time to consume your prized items, gently sauté (yes, that does mean gently fry) these beauties, keeping them moving, as you now well know) in very little oil, as the bacon has a fat content and you also have the butter to consider. Be really careful to keep the cooking long and low if you used garlic butter, as you don’t want the garlic to burn and go bitter.
  • Turn them carefully so that they don’t unwrap, they’ll take about 5 to 10 minutes – or maybe longer, depending on the bottom heat used – or until the bacon has properly crisped up – cos they’re nicer that way.
  • Present them on a slice or a chunk of brown/wholemeal bread, criss-crossed in a pretty pattern. This will absorb the excess fats and leave the spears (and the bread) just scrummy.

Cor, you sure is lucky to have this little booky. (Well…… blog thingy anyway).