Asparagus and Poached Egg Risotto

Bath Asparagus (racheldemuth.co.uk)

Asparagus seems to be one of the last remaining seasonal treats. I know you can buy it in November but the spears that arrive from Chile, or where-ever the out of season stuff comes from, are fairly slim and rather like drinking cold red wine, somewhat tasteless. Talking of red wine, we are also home, in this neck of the woods, to Bath Asparagus a throw back to the Roman Era when the local area was populated with colonisers from Rome bringing with them colonisers of their own. Bath Asparagus (above) looks like a pretty, if slender, version of the hearty native plant and is only found north of Italy in the immediate Bath locality! We are not allowed to pick it let along eat it, but one can see it growing quite abundantly in the lanes around us as Roman villa remains are dug up periodically…..

IMG_0880Anyway, we’ve just eaten the British stuff, grown in Evesham I dare say,  for dinner this evening and I have to say it’s a very cost-effective way to stretch a bunch of asparagus around four people. The kids are a bit ‘meh’ about the whole thing but as they like risotto with poached eggs they’re willing to overlook the presence of the asparagus. One could easily substitute the asparagus for peas the rest of the time.

So for 4 people you will need: 2 tbsp Olive Oil, 1 small Onion, diced, 1 stick of Celery, diced, 1 clove of Garlic, crushed, or a squirt of garlic puree, 400g Risotto Rice, 1.2 litres of Vegetable Stock, 1 bunch Asparagus (however much you want really) tips cut off as shown in the photo and the rest of the usable stem (not the woody end part) chopped, zest of half a Lemon, Parmesan Cheese, grated, a knob of unsalted Butter, 4 Eggs, Salt and Black Pepper.

So in a large heavy based saucepan, heat the oil over a moderate heat and add the onion, cook until transparent.

Meanwhile pour the stock into a smaller saucepan and heat until simmering point. Turn the heat under the stock right down once simmering. Add the asparagus tips to the stock to cook for 5-7 minutes until tender then remove and set aside.

Once the onions are transparent add the celery and garlic and continue to cook for a couple of minutes stirring from time to time. Add the risotto rice and stir around so that the rice is coated with the olive oil, then start adding the stock. As with all risotto, you can add a glassful of white wine or preferably Vermouth at the start of the absorption process if you wish, or just stick with stock which of course you add, ladelled in from the saucepan at regular intervals, stirring all the time as you go. The whole absorption process takes about 15-20 minutes over a moderate heat. After about 5 minutes from the point where you start adding stock add the chopped asparagus so it has a chance to cook and then about 5 minutes from the end, as the rice seems to be almost tender add the lemon zest, a little finely grated Parmesan cheese, the butter and seasoning as required.

Whilst all this is going on fill a large saucepan or frying pan (this is a hob heavy meal) with boiling water from the kettle and allow it to reach simmering point over a medium heat, add a pinch of salt, then, when the risotto is done, crack the eggs carefully into the water, depending on the size of your saucepan you may have to cook the eggs in 2 batches. Cook the eggs for 2-4 minutes depending how soft you like them, and, remove to a wad of kitchen paper using a slotted spoon. The kitchen roll will soak up excess water from the egg. Dish up the risotto, add the asparagus tips and the poached egg, a little more Parmesan and black pepper if desired.

What else is there to say? I love Spring……

 

 

 

 

 

More from the Unloved Vegetables: Stir Fried Kale with Leeks and Garlic

I feel I should start with an apology; I promised pumpkin cupcakes last week for this weeks blog post, however we are moving into fruit cake baking season and my oven could do with deep clean. I have decided to try the bicarbonate of soda route which is in fact a longish process taking a few days. I am uncertain as yet whether it will truly work but am hopeful as ‘Mr Muscle’ seems to be loosing his mojo and you have to put up with that dreadful smell. So baking is currently on hold which is fine but this process has pushed any cupcakes off the agenda for now.

So I am returning to a favourite topic, the unloved vegetables.

Kale really is a bit of a nightmare: bitter, tough, always seems to come in large quantities, the cooking possibilities seem few and far between. I don’t believe there is much point in pretending is possible to convert it into a undiscovered gem of a vegetable, but in terms of bulking dishes out and using it up over throwing it out I do have a few ideas up my sleeves.

Stir Fry Kale with Leeks and Garlic

This is an accompaniment type dish, good with things like pies or roasts. Take a washed trimmed leek and slice quite thinly, heat a slug of olive oil and a similar slug of garlic oil in a medium-sized frying pan and add the leek, stir around for 5 minutes or so, until soft and then add the washed and chopped kale having removed the thick central stems. Stir around for 5 to 10 minutes until the kale has wilted and softened. It takes on a ‘wet’ appearance. Squeeze over the juice of half a lemon and season with a little salt. The leek adds a sweetness to the proceedings which frankly is much needed.

Kale New Potato and Blue Cheese Pizza topping

I am assuming that you are making pizza here  so rustle up a Margherita and then add sliced, cooked new potatoes, chopped, wilted, drained and dried kale and diced blue cheese (Dolcelatte, Stilton, Danish Blue whatever you like) and bake for 10 minutes or so. Now this really is delicious.

I will come back to making pizza a some other point.

Sweetcorn and Chilli Oil

Finally, a cute little food marriage with the corn on the cob season upon us, boil or BBQ your corn on the cob and then instead of adding butter, drizzle chilli oil instead. It’s fantastic!

Lemon Scented Butter Bean Dip

Anyone who has been following this blog for longer than a couple of posts will probably be aware that I am a sucker for all things Italian. This apparently now extends to the persuasive powers of Italian men.

What can she mean? I hear you cry.

Well it took a good friend of mine to point this out but the evidence appears to speak for itself. A few months ago Federico, the Italian Ski Instructor, persuaded me down half a dozen red runs which, until that point, I refused point-blank to attempt. Then last month Luciano, the Italian Dentist, cut through all the prevarication of the last 15 years and convinced me to have a front tooth bleached. This piece of dental work was scheduled for last week and I have been coping with a temporary filling ever since whilst he finesses his bleaching skills and attempts to brighten the offending tooth to skimmed milk colour like the tooth next door. (I think we are currently at whole milk colour).

The upshot of all this: mush to eat. Well not entirely but certainly not too much of a chewy quality to my food. So pea puree last week and a delicious dip today. It’s a good one though and refreshing in more ways than one if you are a little houmous-ed out.

You will need (serves 6-8): 1 Garlic clove, 1 420g can Butter Beans, drained, 3 tbsp smooth Peanut Butter (25% less fat varieties work here), juice and rind of a small Lemon, 5 tbsp Olive Oil plus a teaspoon more for drizzling, salt and pepper, a pinch of Paprika.

  • Place the peeled garlic clove in a saucepan and cover with 1-2 cms of recently boiled water and return to and boil for 3-4 minutes. Drain.
  • Place the garlic, butter beans, peanut butter, lemon juice and rind and seasoning in a blender or food processor and blend until almost smooth.
  • Gradually add the 5 tbsp of olive oil with the motor running, and continue blending until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and chill.
  • Serve drizzled with Olive Oil, a few strands of lemon rind and a pinch of Paprika.

Good with breadsticks, vegetable crudities, pitta bread, all the usual suspects.

Grazie ragazzi!

N.B. Names changed to protect the innocent.

Lemon and Poppy Seed Muffins lead out the Baking Page

Some Narcissi have come out in my garden over the weekend, they have joined the rather dishevelled-looking Hellebore and the 1.5 snowdrops.

To celebrate the launch of the Baking Top Page, which will have tips, advice and all that jazz, I am posting my most favourite muffin flavour recipe. The scruffy piece of paper detailing these nuggets of heaven is utterly blotted with baking gunk to the point of obscuring the information and therefore creating a post about these wonderfully fragrant, crunchy delights has risen to the top of the blogging agenda.

I first had a Lemon and Poppy Seed Muffin in Café Nero at least a couple of years ago. The reality of these particular ones did not live up to the hype and I was disappointed to say the least. The primary problem was the consistency. Way too chewy. Now I’m not going to profess to being a muffin guru but I like them the day they are baked so that they are light airy little things with icing sugar dusting the tops and this top retaining a bit of a crust. Anything else is a waste of calories. Muffin bakers, supplying cafés and delis, rise extraordinarily early to bake their goods as I understand it and so if I was to be ranking any muffin making advice, at the top of the list would be to make them on the day of consumption.

The second piece of advice surrounds the process of combining ingredients which naturally also affects consistency. Essentially, all the dry ingredients are combined in one bowl, all the wet in another. The wet are added to the dry and then you STIR/FOLD them together with no more than 20 single stir/fold actions. Whatever gloopy mess you have at that point is what you dollop into the muffin cases. For some reason if you beat everything together as you would a cake, you end up with stodgy, sticky bricks which stick to the roof of your mouth if you are pressed to try one!

The final piece of advice, and this is for the purists, is get some American measuring cups (assuming you are English here), and try to only use American recipes. I’m not really suggesting that anything else just won’t do but there is something about the quantities and again the consistency of the final product which necessitates this. Hummingbird recipes, for example, seem to make their muffins in a similar style to the cupcakes and consequently the result is basically a cupcake without the frosting, tastes good, don’t get me wrong, but not authentic.

Finally, before I start on the actual recipe, don’t be scared to use the muffin tins bare of the paper cases. When Child 1 was very small I used to hang out in a Café which was happy to let breastfeeding Mummys linger for hours, chatting, feeding, eating. It was run by two guys who had moved to the UK from New Zealand I think, and they actually made the very best muffins I have ever tasted. To be honest this compliment can’t be restricted just to the muffins, the food was fabulous. Anyway, before I go off into reveries about all that, as far as I could tell, they filled up the muffin tin holes completely so that the mixture would rise and run over the top and blend with the muffin next door as they cooked. The resultant pile on the plate on the counter, dusted with icing sugar, was glorious, decadent and divine.

The Café isn’t there anymore before you all start asking.

The recipe:

2 cups (280g) Plain/All purpose Four

1 cup (200g) Sugar (I used golden caster here)

1 tbsp Baking Powder

1 tsp Salt

2 Eggs

¼ cup Oil (any flavourless)

4 tbsp Butter/Margarine, melted

¾ cup Milk

1 tsp Lemon Juice

1 tsp Golden (Corn) Syrup

2 tsp Lemon Extract

2 tbsp Poppy Seeds

Preheat the oven to 175ºC /Fan 155-160ºC. Combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs, oil, milk, butter, lemon juice, golden syrup and lemon extract. Catch the yolks with a tine of a fork to ‘pop’ them and then (with the fork) combine with no more than 10 of the single stirs as described above. Add the Poppy seeds and carry on with a maximum of 10 more stirs. You want a gloopy barely combined, this all looks very unpromising mixture, not all the flour needs to look blended I have discovered.

Dollop into a 12-hole muffin tin, with or without cases, but oil the tin if without. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack and when cold dust with icing sugar. They freeze very well so what is not consumed that day should be frozen although these are the one exception to the eat on the day of baking rule. I think because of the oil and syrup they are fine the next day.

After that, I take no responsibility for them.

The Baking Page expands a little on some of the advice, so it’s not a mere copy and paste job. This time round there is additional information on American Cups.

The Cutest Cakes: Classic Cakes

Lilies and Pearls

The Cutest Cakes: Cupcakes

Rosebud Vanilla Cupcake

The Cutest Cakes: Individual Iced Cakes

Miniature Fruit Cake

Details for The Cutest Cakes can be found at www.cutestcakes.co.uk or if you click the image on the side bar you will be transported there.