Creamed asparagus on toast and Procol Harum
So this week we’re going to talk about creamed asparagus on toast. Don't stop reading! I say that because I mentioned creamed asparagus at work the other day and the three or four people who were within hearing distance turned up their noses and went “eeeuuuu.”
Hopefully everybody doesn’t feel that way. It was pretty off-putting, so I didn’t stick around to ask what it was about it that made them make the sourpuss face.
Anyway it's springtime and asparagus is popping up all over. Or at least wherever homeowners had the patience to wait a year after planting it. I’ve been meaning to plant some for, like, 10 years, but can never stand the thought that it won't be ready for, like, two years.
Luckily, asparagus is one of those veggies we can get year-round at grocery stores these days, but as with most vegetables, there’s no comparison to the stuff you can pick in your backyard. People tend to covet the skinny little stocks, but my mother has always leaned toward the fat ones. And my mother is usually right. Usually.
Tony Heyl gave me some of his homegrown asparagus last spring. The stalks were huge. Some were an inch in circumference — and it was the sweetest, tenderest asparagus I’ve ever had. I'm hoping he’ll read this and give me more this spring. Tony and I have been trying to get together for dinner at the Thistle for a couple months now, but time constraints, or other stupid things have prevented it from happening. I went last week with my friends Tom Cramer and Ron Sanchez and Anya told me Tony had been in a couple nights before.
Anyway, this isn't a social column, and I'm not exactly a social butterfly. Unless I've had a couple manhattans.
Where was I?
Asparagus. So I got some yesterday. Not native, but not bad. There were some skinny ones and there were some medium ones, but no good, fat ones. I got the medium ones. You probably already know this, but the way to prepare asparagus for cooking is to snap off the dry, straw-like end wherever it wants to snap. You may be tempted to throw those ends in the compost heap, or if you're lazy, into the trash bin. But if you're making creamed asparagus for god sake don't throw them away!
Throw them in an inch or so of boiling water and leave the good parts on top so the ends are in the water and the good parts get steamed. I usually cook them for around five minutes. Stop cooking while the stocks are still a nice bright green. Don't ever let them turn a whiter shade of pale.
Didn’t you love that song? If you're reading this online you can listen to it right now by clicking here. It always takes me back to my teenage years at the cottage and my friend Sally Thompson. She always kept a secret pack of Marlboros in the old shed next to her family cottage. We'd go up there and open all the windows, smoke Marlboros, and listen to Procol Harum and The Moody Blues. “Nights in White Satin.” Oh boy — don't get me started.
Those really were the good old days.
So anyway, as usual I'm relaying all this to my iPhone as I walk down the Eddy Road with my little dog, Elliot. Focus! Creamed asparagus on toast. So, as soon as the asparagus is tender get it out of that hot pan before it turns a whiter shade of pale :-) (Did you know that you can speak the words “smiley face” in a text message or email and :-) will show up? I'm not kidding – try it.)
OK, take the cooked asparagus out and have some for dinner, but leave enough for breakfast. Leave the dry ends in the water they were cooked in and stick in the fridge.
Fast forward to next morning. Throw those ends in the compost heap and keep the water. Now make a roux with a good tablespoon or two of butter and a tablespoon of flour. Stir it over low heat for a bit so the flour cooks and you don't get that flour-y taste. Slowly stir in the asparagus water and cook till it's a creamy sauce, and throw in a pinch of salt and some fresh-ground pepper. If it's too thick add some milk or chicken broth.
Throw the leftover asparagus in and heat. Serve over toast or an English muffin. Some bacon on the side never hurts either. I'm telling you – this is like the best breakfast ever, unless, of course, you don't like asparagus. Duh.
And no, I don’t have a manhattan with breakfast. But a cup of cappuccino is wicked good with creamed asparagus on toast.
OK, see ya next week.