Asparagus… or the meaning of food

Food is so many things. It is nourishment. It is connection with others, with the earth, with our bodies. And food is childhood. Deep in the learning curve of this blogging endeavor, my brain is all widgets and gadgets and html and links these days (when I’m not obsessing over how to best photograph an artichoke).  And it occurred to me there was this strange link between certain foods and childhood memories. You think of a food, and click, you’re back in your mother’s kitchen, with its smells, its feel. Not just a cerebral memory, a very visceral one. Well, when I see white asparagus, click, my brain goes right back to Sunday lunches at my mother’s apartment. The spring. The cool weather. The radishes. The cream sauce.

Marcel Proust wrote a vastly more eloquent version of this idea in In Search of Lost Time, in the famous Madeleine scene, where taking a bite out of the little French cakes brings him back to his childhood:



“[…] When from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”


(I found this translated quote here, where you will also find a more extended version of the scene)

I just love the idea that taste and smell are “souls”… I suppose my goal is to be creating lots of originating links in Pablo’s brain when cooking for him, imprinting tastes and smells he will click back to, later in life. A way to leave a mark as a parent, strangely.

So Proust had Madeleines, and I have (among other things) asparagus. White asparagus, to be precise. Yes, I know. They make your pee smell weird. But their flavor and texture are so unique (and so different from their green cousin). My mother prepared them lukewarm, in a creamy sauce. With fresh tarragon.

I have adapted my mother’s recipe for Pablo (and us as well), to make it on the healthier side, using sheep’s milk yogurt instead of cream.

It makes a great finger food (a bit messy with the creamy sauce… but messy is the word of the hour… or year). And it is a wonderful opportunity to familiarize baby with the flavor of tarragon. I cannot think of a happier (tastier) place for tarragon to be!

The contrast between the warm asparagus and cold cream sauce is something interesting and new for baby, and the texture of white asparagus is very unique as well. It’s healthy, tasty and pretty to look at… Nourishment and sensory experience, two for the price of one!

 

White asparagus tips with tarragon sauce

Age: I offered asparagus tips (white or green) as a puree, boiled and mixed with potato around 6 months. As a finger food, I offered them plain (boiled, not steamed, so they’re less bitter) around 8 months, and with the yogurt sauce around 9-10 months.

A bunch of white asparagus

2 tbsp of plain sheep’s milk yogurt (Bellwether farms has a very creamy kind)

Some lemon juice

A pinch of salt

Fresh tarragon

Peel the asparagus: Cut off the foot of the stem, and with a small knife, remove the shiny film covering the bottom two thirds of the asparagus (not going all the way to the tip, see picture above.)

Put the asparagus in boiling water for about 12-14 minutes. Use a knife to make sure they’re done, when they’re very soft.

Deposit the asparagus on a paper towel to absorb the moisture. Let cool to lukewarm.

(Or reheat if you want to refrigerate and eat later).

Yogurt sauce: Mix the sheep’s milk yogurt, lemon and salt (adjust quantities to taste, though go very easy on the salt for baby). Cut up the leaves of tarragon with scissors, to make their fragrance and flavor come out, and stir into the creamy sauce.

Cut the very tips of the warm asparagus for baby (they’re less stringy, keep the rest for the grown-ups!) and pour some of the creamy sauce over them.

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Tritip roast with asparagus stuffing

For Easter I was invited at a friend’s place and I decided to cook something springy and festive and for some reason I decided that that something had to be tritip roast stuffed with some green vegetable. I knew the host of the party was going to cook spinach so those were out, zucchini don’t make for great filling material, so I decided to go with asparagus. And there it was: tritip roast with asparagus stuffing!

By the way this was my favorite recipe for April and I am sharing it on YBR: please stop by Nancy’s site and have a look at all the wonderful recipes posted for April!

Tritip roast with asparagus stuffing

Tritip roast with asparagus stuffing

Ingredients

  • 2lb tritip roast
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup pecorino
  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • salt
  • pepper
  • EVOO

Directions

  1. First I prepared the stuffing. The stuffing is really easy to make: you cook the asparagus and then mix them with the other ingredients. Slice the asparagus and cook them in a pan with a bit of oil.
  2. After a couple of minutes season the asparagus with salt and add a bit of water to help them soften up. Cook the asparagus until tender. In a bowl combine the asparagus with grated pecorino, ground pork, egg, salt, pepper and enough bread crumbs to make the stuffing
  3. Now cut a pocket in the tritip roast by sliding a knife into the center of the roast from the short side and cutting toward the sides of the roast. Be careful not to cut through the meat.
  4. Now fill your roast with the stuffing and suture the cut using white tread. Wrap the leftover stuffing in parchment paper and close it using some cooking tread.
  5. Cook the tritip roast and the stuffing salami on the stove. Season the roast with salt and pepper and put it in a pan with the stuffing and a bit of olive oil. Sear the meat and, when the roast is well browned on all sides, add a splash of white wine. Cover the pan and let the roast cook for about an hour. Let the roast rest for a bit to absorb its juices and then slice thinly and serve.
  6. By the way, this roast is good also cold.

Asparagus, arugula, avocado soup recipe

Last weekend, I went foraging, for the first time in my
life. And I think I fell in love. There I was, with a new group of people, in the woods, learning about a completely new topic. I felt so alive.

This was the
perfect symbiosis of nature and cooking. And you probably have gathered by now
how much I love cooking. Perhaps I can share a little bit here about my love of nature.

Not to be overly dramatic, but the love of nature might have
saved my life, many years ago. 

When I was 16, I had what you might call a crisis of faith.
Faith in life. In its value. I was a cerebral kid, who spent a big amount of
time in my own head. My head was my space, for better or for worse. And so not
so surprisingly, at 16, I reached the very cerebral conclusion that one should
live only as a deliberate act, provided one could find something worth living
for. Something that could justify going on living when everything around seemed
hopeless and dark.

And I had come up with nothing. Everything that might make
life worth living seemed either inaccessible or inauthentic. And so I was
coming close to the inevitable conclusion: I had no business going on living.

Then, there was a trip to the United States. A backpacking trip
with a group of other teens, traveling across the country.

And there was the Grand Canyon.
The day I flew over the Grand Canyon,
the overwhelming beauty and immensity of it, I thought for the first time: this is worth living for. Seeing this.

So this land, this
beautiful land, now my land, gave me
a reason to live when I needed one.

As I spent more and more time in the United States (I ended up actually working at
the Grand Canyon for a few summers before
moving here), my love of nature became less cerebral and more real. It got me
out of my head and grounded me. Ever since, it has made me feel like I belong
on earth. I love to seek it out as much as I can, whether it’s hiking through Yellowstone, or going camping, or simply eating outside.

And now, there’s foraging.
I mean, what’s not to love: you go hike in the woods, learn about wild
edible plants, learn how to cook them or how to use them in your cooking.  (And it will be so great to take Pablo
foraging when he’s a bit more of a functional hiker :-))

I am so thankful to my good friend Linda for introducing me
to Pascal Baudar and Mia Wasilevich this weekend, the lovely and talented couple who guided our
foraging experience. (If you are in the LA area, definitely check these guys out.)
Pascal Baudar, a Belgian man who has lived in the US for many years and a forager for
the past 13 years (he forages for chefs too!), had black fingers, from
harvesting thousands of black walnuts, he explained. How I love hands who tell a
story.

He guided us down a trail and talked (among many things) about green, red and
black currants, elderflowers and berries, wild peaches, wild fig leaves, mugwort,
thistle and chickweed. I munched on wild mustard flowers that taste like broccoli,
smelled white sage and sage brush.

What better way to commune with nature than to actually eat it? Its flavors open up every one of your tastebuds at once. Nature as a tastebud opener. I like that. Next time, I can’t wait to forage wild spinach,
wild radishes and watercress.

After our walk, Mia, a very talented wild food chef (more
about her right here) had prepared some treats for us: roasted potatoes with her foothill spice blend made with local wild aromatic
plants. Wild spinach empanadas. Nectarines roasted inside a wild fig leaf. And a wild watercress gazpacho with wild watercress flowers (picture below), that tasted like a cool running creek at dawn. And there was Pascal’s fermented white sage lemonade and wild mugwort beer too…      

I plan on experimenting first with fermented sage lemonade
and elderflower syrup, recipes I will be sharing with you here soon (should they be
successful, that is ;-))  

I have so much
to learn it makes me feel young.

So if culinary hiking sounds like something you would enjoy,
I highly recommend you give foraging a try! And if you have gone foraging,
please tell me all about it! What have you made? What have you found?

It’s such an appropriate metaphor for life too. Let us spend
less time in our heads and more time in the real world. Let’s forage the good
stuff out of life, for it is so flavorful…

In the meantime, I leave you with this lovely & seasonal asparagus wild arugula soup, nicely
complemented by some wild mustard flowers foraged by yours truly. 

Asparagus, wild arugula & avocado soup with wild mustard flowers

Barely adapted from Small Plates and Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga

Serves about 4 generous bowls

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Age for babies: Without the crabmeat (just the soup), 6-8 months.

2 tbsp coconut oil

1 shallot

2 cloves of garlic

1 bunch of green asparagus

3/4 tsp salt

3 cups vegetable stock

2 cups (about 2 oz) wild arugula

1 avocado

4 oz crabmeat (optional)

2 tbsp sheep’s milk yogurt

Foraged wild mustard flowers (optional)

Mince the shallot and garlic. Cut off the tough ends of the asparagus, and dice them. Peel, pit and dice the avocado.

Heat the coconut oil in a large pot of medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic and asparagus with 1/4 tsp salt, stir, and cook for about 3 minutes (do not brown).

Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 5-6 minutes, until the asparagus are tender.

Add the arugula and cook for another minute. Remove pot from heat. 

Pour mixture in the blender, add the avocado and remaining 1/2 tsp salt. Blend thoroughly, until very smooth. 

You can serve hot or chilled, topped with some crab meat, a swirl of yogurt, and a few wild mustard flowers on top.