before it's over

 


Forget sausages and beer, Germans love asparagus:  white asparagus, also known as edible ivory.

And I am using the word love on purpose - not like, or adore but love. In the English language we really throw this word around. For instance, I love balconies. I love zucchini blossoms and road-trips. I love old dining room tables made from wood. I love hand-me-downs. In German you are less likely to hear such sentences. Germans save the word love. They don't throw it around like we do in English and when they use it it isn't usually possible to interchange it with the word like. That said, I am pretty sure I can safely say that Germans love white asparagus. Both Deutsche Welle and the Spiegel have written about the love affair between this country and edible ivory.

In fact, the German word for asparagus - Spargel - refers only to white asparagus. If you want green asparagus you must specifically say Gruenspargel or gruener Spargel and you must hunt for it underneath piles and piles of its fairer sibling. What makes the two different? Dirt. White asparagus is grown completely underground which means that it costs more than green asparagus as it is much more labour intensive. 

I have never seen one seasonal ingredient take over restaurants, markets and people's plates to the extent that white asparagus does each spring and early summer in Germany. It truly must be love. 

Luckily, I too am crazy about asparagus. However, it took me a long time to be charmed by white asparagus. Growing up with the green variety, I became accustomed to thinner spears that are much more versatile. I have eaten green asparagus in a plethora of forms - from raw shaved salads with hazelnuts to with Tabasco butter and quinoa and from a traditional quiche with salmon to battered and fried as tempura. Green asparagus is happy to be transformed from year to year and from dish to dish. I have eaten it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. White asparagus, on the other hand, is a little more predictable in its preparation. Most of the time it is boiled and then served with hollandaise sauce. On the same plate you might also find new potatoes with parsley, Schnitzel, or ham (often dry-cured). Other than with hollandaise, you might also find white asparagus in a rich and creamy gratin. Creaminess is the common thread here.


So most of my experiences with white asparagus have involved hollandaise sauce and lots of it. My New Roots recently had a recipe for roasted white asparagus with caper berries with mustard dill dressing. While I read the recipe, and then made it a few days later, it was if I was meeting white asparagus for the first time all over. It was just the inspiration I needed to think differently and more creatively about white asparagus. Don't get me wrong:  I do enjoy asparagus with hollandaise just as much as any of my German neighbours; however, I also like to mix things up now and again. Each spring you will find heaps of green asparagus roasting in my oven so it just made sense to try roasting white asparagus instead of boiling it like business as usual. The idea of a dressing or a topping for the asparagus just seemed brilliant. And just like that, with only one recipe, my head was busy brainstorming friends for white asparagus. I decided to try sun-dried tomato pesto as a topping and boy did the white asparagus and the pesto ever get along!


Asparagus season ends this week so there is not much time left to make this recipe - Roasted White Asparagus with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto. If you don't make in time, save it for next year or just make the sun-dried tomato pesto and serve it with some pasta instead. With or without the asparagus, sun-dried tomato pesto is something special. To be honest, it is my go to dish for when I barely have enough energy to place a cutting board on the counter. I eat it with pasta more often than I should probably admit. It takes just a few minutes to prepare - less time in fact than the water needs to boil - and it is consistently satisfying. If you make it for pasta, add some of the hot pasta water to thin it out and then serve it with some grated parmesan or pecorino romano. That said, I still recommend a trip to the market for white asparagus before the season is over.




Roasted White Asparagus with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto


* * * *

Roasted White Asparagus 

adapted from My New Roots

ingredients

4-5 spears of white asparagus per person
olive oil, to drizzle
coarse sea salt
a handful of caper berries, optional

Preheat oven to 400F / 200C / gas mark 6.

Snap off the end of each asparagus spear. Peel from top to bottom. Make sure to peel more off of the bottom to ensure you remove any woody or tough parts. If using, cut the caper berries in half. Place the asparagus (and caper berries) on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Roast until slightly golden and the bottoms and tips are tender (but not mushy), about 10-20 minutes depending on the heat of your oven and the thickness of the asparagus. 

While the asparagus is roasting, prepare the sun-dried tomato pesto.

Once the asparagus is ready, remove from the oven, transfer to a serving tray or plates, drizzle with the sun-dried tomato pesto and serve immediately. 

Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

serves 2-4


ingredients

1/2 cup packed sun-dried tomatoes
2 medium cloves garlic
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
a large pinch of sea salt
1/4 cup walnuts, lightly toasted
a large pinch (or two) of red chili flakes
1/3 cup + 2tsp extra virgin olive oil

If using a food processor, pulse together the sun-dried tomatoes, thyme, salt & red chili flakes. Add the olive oil and pulse until the mixture comes together. Add the walnuts and pulse a few more times.

If you wish to make the pesto by hand begin by finely chopping the sun-dried tomatoes (if you have a ceramic knife use it). In a mortar & pestle, combine the thyme, salt, garlic and red chili flakes. Add the chopped sun-dried tomatoes and olive oil and combine until the mixture comes together. Add the walnuts at the end. Check the seasoning to taste. 

The pesto can be made ahead and stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to one week.


Guten!

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jam made with beer


Beer and I have a pretty great relationship. If we are spending the evening together I promise not to cheat on it with a glass of wine or a cocktail and it promises to not make me feel seasick the day after. It is the perfect accompaniment to a football match, a night of Indian food, or to an early evening spent on a dock up at a cottage. 

If I get tired of a certain brew, it offers me different options. Here in Munich the options are mostly local and although Helles dominates the Biergarten scene, I can always switch to Pils, Weissbier, Dunkel and, during Munich's most infamous time of year, Oktoberfestbier. When I am outside of Germany I make a point of drinking ales instead of lagers. I'll be heading home to Canada this summer where I'll be drinking pale ales, bitters and - a favourite that most Bavarians would dismiss as just not beer - St-Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale.

At first our relationship was more about having a cold glass of beer as opposed to cooking with it, but then I made mussels in white Belgian beer instead of white wine and I realized that beer is good for so much more than just drinking. This was a few years ago and now I almost always make mussels with white beer (with the exception of some good cidre brut from Normandy now and then). However, I am still taking baby steps when it comes to cooking sweets or baking with beer. Heidi Swanson taught me to use beer instead of water when making a pie crust and Katie Quinn Davies taught me to use Guinness when baking a chocolate cake

Now Paul Virant has taught me to use beer when making jam - rhubarb jam to be more precise. Based on the name along - Rhubarb-Beer Jam - my expectations were high (hello, two things I love dearly). The recipe, however, delivered. I am assuming that there is some kind of magical/chemical reaction that takes place with the beer and the rhubarb as after you bring the two to a simmer you leave the mixture to hang-out in your fridge anywhere from overnight to 5 days. I halved the original recipe as our pantry can only hold so many preserves, but use the original if you want a larger batch.

So far I have mostly been eating the jam with its classic match:  toast. It tastes wonderful with some pecorino romano slivered on top and I bet it would easily befriend some barbecued lamb. 


Rhubarb-Beer Jam

adapted from Paul Virant's 'The Preservation Kitchen' via the Tasting Table

makes about 3 1/2 pint jars

ingredients

1 1/2 pounds (680 grams, about 4 1/2 cups) rhubarb
1 1/2 cups (375ml) wheat beer 
3/4 cup (170 grams) sugar
zest and juice of half a lemon

Wash the rhubarb and cut it into small to medium chunks.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot combine all of the ingredients and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, remove from the heat and let cool. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate at least overnight or up to 5 days.

Using a sieve, pour the rhubarb liquid into a pot. Set aside the chunks of rhubarb. Bring the rhubarb liquid to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until it reaches 215F (102C), about 12 minutes. Add the reserved chunks of rhubarb and continue to cook until the mixture returns to 215F (102C), about 10 minutes.

While the jam cooks, sterilize three clean jars for canning in a large pot of boiling water. When the jam is just about ready, remove the jars from the water with tongs and place upside down on a tea towel to drain. Throw the lids into the hot water in the meantime. Fill the jars with jam, leaving 1/2 inch at the top. Wipe the jar clean, remove the lids from the hot water, dry them and then secure the lids on the jars. 

Return jars to a pot of boiling water and boil for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let the jars rest in the hot water for 5 minutes. Remove and place the jars on the counter to cool undisturbed. 

Guten!

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apples, milk and honey


Now that it is summer I am taking a break from reading about institutions and contemporary art. Instead I am taking walks to the local park or lake with a novel tucked under my arm and I am packing memoirs into my carry-on as I head to the airport.

I am back in Munich and while I was away the city made the transition from spring to summer. Such weather makes the transition from reading for knowledge to reading for pleasure even easier. However, a good writer always tucks one underneath the other - pleasure tucked beneath knowledge or knowledge tucked beneath pleasure. The photo above reveals that Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef has been my most recent read. It has also been the best I have had in a while. 

When I was in high school I took a class on African American Literature (it was an alternative high school; I was lucky). I remember when our class was assigned to read Toni Morrison's Beloved our teacher passed around sheets of paper that had a small illustration of the author but that were otherwise blank. "While you are reading Beloved I want to you to write down the sentences that knock you on your ass," she instructed. I nodded, like the good student I was and still am, and scribbled down a title on the top of the page:  Sentences from Beloved that Knock Me on my Ass. 

While I was reading Blood, Bones & Butter I was reminded of this assignment. Gabrielle Hamilton writes with such brutal honesty. She owns her own life mistakes and scars with so much commitment and pride it is hard to not to feel slightly winded as a reader. She narrates her life according to food but in a way that is neither fluffy nor precious. Food is about survival. It is about hunger and need and supply. It is about belonging to a family and negotiating the ups and downs of that belonging. It is about fucking up and then learning how to take care of yourself. It is about being with others and learning how to share. Food is a medium; it always communicates so much more than breakfast, lunch or dinner. Blood, Bones & Butter demonstrates all of that. 

It also demonstrates that food is more than recipes or restaurants or dining. It is about arriving someplace hungry and being greeted by a near-stranger with a plate of two eggs fried in olive oil. Or perhaps milk with honey and apples. When Gabrielle described this in the book I immediately made a note in my mind to buy some apples (I was in Sweden so I was without my usually well-stocked kitchen). I made this drink the next day and the simple three ingredients magically melted into one another to make something very satisfying. A day later I made it for a friend and she said that she would happily choose milk with honey and apples over a more classic milkshake for the rest of her life. It really is too simple for a recipe, but I have included one anyways.



Milk with Honey and Apples

inspired by Gabrielle Hamilton's 'Blood, Bones & Butter'

serves 1-2

ingredients

1 glass of milk
1 apple, cut into chunks
1 tbsp honey, plus more to drizzle

In a blender combine the milk, apples and honey until the mixture is completely smooth and resembles a milkshake. Pour into a glass and drizzle with honey. Serve immediately.

Guten!

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breakfast lately II


These breakfasts are from before I went to Napoli and the Amalfi Coast. They were before Sweden - where I am now - and although I am currently distracted by dried fruit and nut bread as well as the company of beautiful friends, I thought that I would share some of my breakfasts from May.



Is there a breakfast more perfect than a boiled egg? 

Forget breakfast, is there any snack or meal that is more perfect? Any food? Sometimes I opt for two, but most of the time one is enough. For my whole childhood and a fragment of my adulthood I was a soft-boiled egg kind of gal. We had egg cups growing up that suited soft-boiled eggs very well. One end was a deep glass. It was deep enough to throw a completely peeled soft-boiled egg into and to smash it up with a fork. Salt and pepper too, please. Now I might add some lemon zest or spring onion or herbs but only sometimes. However, the same egg cup had a second side and on this side a hard-boiled egg fits perfectly. As I child I only ever used the one side, but then Germany taught me to appreciate hard-boiled eggs because no German breakfast seems to be complete without at least the option or the offer of a hard-boiled egg. Now I cook my eggs somewhere in between - almost hard but with a delicate and only slightly soft yolk.



But even perfection everyday becomes a tad tired. This is what I have been eating recently other than boiled eggs.




Breakfast in May

coconut-maple granola with yogurt, figs and raspberries

 a toasted English muffin with spinach, a poached egg and parmesan

chia pudding with oat milk, cocoa and strawberries (again) 

sweet potato cinnamon rolls

many boiled eggs (sometimes soft, sometimes hard, mostly somewhere in between) 

baked eggs with shallots and cheddar cheese served with maple turkey breakfast sausages

chocolate, butter & walnut bread with Swedish honey


 Guten!

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