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white asparagus with miso butter and boiled eggs

9 Jun

asparagus, miso butter

(I wanted to called it miso-mimosa? misomosa? mimosimo? but any portmanteau sounds too much like mumbling.)

It has been a good season so far for all the asparagi: I have had green asparagus dipped in miso-butter at KOYA in London (and wished there was bread to scrape up the leftover sauce). Wild asparagus from a market in Strasbourg, the thin stems like ears of wheat, sweet enough to snap off and eat then and there like mange-tout peas. Those were cooked briefly in oil and butter, as per the forager’s suggestion, to become like green spaghetti. And last week at Le Casse Noix in Paris, my new favourite bistro (where they offer you a mousse-like chicken liver pâté while you struggle to decide on the menu!) my starter was white asparagus and poached egg, all drowned in a very French sauce made of cream and a richly meaty stock. I was sad to run out of bread, again, when Jen pointed out that they gave me a spoon for a reason.

Since then, I have put miso and butter on many things. Other vegetables. Inside flaky, savoury croissant twists. I have been out for ramen with miso broth and butter, a classic combination. Most often I have used it as a last-minute pasta sauce, the way the Italians eat spaghetti all’olio-aglio-peperoncino when there is nothing else in the fridge. The same principle of fat-flavour-heat: I toss the cooked pasta with a big spoonful each of butter and white miso, add sriracha. Then probably eat the whole bowl in bed, because that is the kind of comfort food it sets out to be. Salty and rich and full of umami. Dare I say it, better and easier than a cheese sauce. Or just as good considering you already ate all the cheese earlier as a snack.

And today, we had an abundance of fat, white asparagus from the morning’s market, since our favourite vendor threw in a bunch of broken stalks for free. For a slightly more elegant supper this evening – using a table mat and everything – I combined the best of the above meals.

First I boiled some eggs. And in the meantime, I peeled and sliced the white asparagus.  As soon as the eggs were done, the asparagus went in some salted water to fully cook through. (It doesn’t like to be as squeaky and snappy as the green kind.) Eggs peeled. Drained the asparagus stalks and swirled butter, olive oil and miso in the hot pan. Then tossed the asparagus in the miso sauce, serving it piled on a plate with the eggs grated on top. Miso-mimosa. We had some fresh basil, also from the market man, growing roots in a glass jar. Torn leaves of basil, black pepper. It looks very springlike, shades of yellow and white and green, but it could be dressed up further with toasted seeds, croutons, any number of things. It definitely needs bread to clean up those last bits of egg yolk and miso left on the plate.

asparagus, miso butter 1

P.S. Could my brand of miso BE any cuter? The characters even have names: Megumi-chan and Dai-san are SO excited about soup. But not just soup: a spoonful of miso works for sautéed mushrooms, in mashed potatoes, anything that needs a kick of flavour. The vegan equivalent of a rich, meaty stock, and one that I used a lot at Freegan Pony, without the extra butter of course. Oishii desu ne!

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White asparagus with miso butter and boiled eggs

Obviously this would be good with other asparagus, green or wild, so adjust cooking times accordingly. Miso brands differ too, so taste as you go and add extra if you like it as much as I do! Add more butter too, for more dipping at the end. This is just the roughest guide.

serves 2

large bunch of white asparagus (500-600g)

2-4 eggs depending on hunger

2 tbs unsalted butter

1 tbs olive oil

1-2 tbs white miso paste (the mildest kind)

fresh herbs eg. basil

salt and pepper

Bring a medium pan of water to the boil, then gently add eggs and cook for 10 minutes. Lift them out and place in cold water. Meanwhile, peel the white asparagus as the skin is much tougher than the green kind. Snap off the hard ends. Cut any very fat stalks in half lengthways. Boil the asparagus in salted water for 8-10 minutes. Taste to check, they should be just soft. Drain into a colander. Add butter, oil and miso to the empty, hot pan, stir to melt and combine, and then toss in the asparagus. Mix, taste and add more miso, butter or salt as preferred.

Arrange asparagus stalks on plates. Grate boiled eggs on the large holes of a cheese grater, or finely chop. Sprinkle over asparagus. Add lots of black pepper, some salt and torn fresh herbs if desired. Serve warm.

 

recipes of note

17 May

market, rhubarb, turnips, blood oranges

Pictured, from our Friday market: rhubarb stalks, limes, blood oranges, baby turnips and their leaves. Not pictured: cauliflower, kohlrabi, cooked beetroot, leeks, carrots, celery, and a bunch of coriander tossed in for free.

The leek tops went in the freezer for later on. Tender cauliflower leaves and turnip greens were sautéed with garlic and made into lunch with sriracha, lentils and a fried egg. The rhubarb I cut up and tossed with lemon juice and sugar, then let it sit in the fridge in its baking dish to release its juices and form a syrup, to be roasted later. It will make a beautifully sharp-sweet compote without turning to mush.

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For the last couple of months, I have been helping out at Freegan Pony (silly name, great concept): a restaurant supplied by donations of fruit and veg from Paris’ central market, produce that would otherwise be thrown away at the end of day. Perfectly good food, that might be a little bruised, or have one brown leaf. A team of volunteers turns out a three course meal – vegetarian or vegan, for 80-100 people – in an abandoned warehouse space under the périphérique (Paris’ ring road). Filled with old sofas, mismatched chairs and tables, it feels like an enormous living room. It is a lot of fun, and a good lesson not to waste food. (They are currently being threatened with eviction – the petition to save the space is here if you’d like to add your name.)

In the morning, you receive the list of produce from that morning’s market and have a couple of hours to imagine a menu to make that afternoon. I find it a satisfying form of stress to come up with something balanced, colourful, mostly based on vegetables, easy to prepare for a crowd AND still delicious. Here are some of the recipes I have successfully borrowed:

  • Gjelina’s mojo de ajo – a garlicky citrus sauce that should be used to liven up any combination of vegetables, fresh or roasted (via 101 cookbooks)
  • Smitten Kitchen’s carrot, tahini and roast chickpea salad as well as her easy flatbread
  • Sprouted Kitchen’s crunchy tofu chopped salad (Adapted to use up some red cabbage, apple, carrot and celeriac. Even people that don’t like tofu couldn’t stop stealing pieces once it was fried in sesame oil.)
  • Aglaia Kremezi’s potato-caper dip (but patted into burger-sized cakes, coated in polenta and fried)
  • Ottolenghi’s rosewater malabi (milk pudding) made with coconut milk and topped with pomegranate seeds
  • A moist, spiced banana bread that is surprisingly vegan
  • …and a simple sliced fennel and orange salad with a mustardy vinaigrette (no recipe needed!)

Once I had scaled the recipes up to feed a hundred people, I packed my bag with some essential tools, condiments, ingredients to add some punch to vegetarian cooking:

  • a good zester (microplane) and lemons or limes
  • bunches of coriander, mint, parsley
  • sesame oil, rice vinegar, miso
  • harissa or sriracha
  • preserved lemons, capers
  • garlic, lots of garlic
  • mustard
  • stale breadcrumbs (the poor man’s parmesan – or a good substitute for toasted nuts)
  • coconut milk
  • toasted sesame seeds
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