Asparagus and Sour Cream Tart

There’s something about asparagus that makes me happy. Well, a few things really. It tastes wonderful, it looks pretty and has an amazing colour which screams “spring”! It also feels like a luxury ingredient, which it most certainly used to be, but in reality is one which is now readily available and easily affordable. Mind you, in a few weeks when we have the start of the wonderful English asparagus season, we may pay a little more but oh it will be worth it for the flavour!

Asparagus & Sour Cream Tart (4)

Blogging too makes me happy, it allows me to keep a record of dishes I enjoy cooking and eating, it allows me to share my passions with like-minded folk and it has introduced me to new pals around the globe. New cuisines are available at the click of my mouse and one such cuisine which I am gradually learning more about comes from Germany. A wonderful blogger, Ginger, shares her recipes and memories over at Ginger and Bread. A German, with a Chilean partner living in London. Do pop over if you get the chance. She recently shared a recipe for a traditional onion quiche and I was intrigued by the use of sour cream in there with the rest of the more familiar ingredients. Time to buy a carton of sour cream and give this style of quiche a go!

Ingredients (to serve 6)

  • 1 packet of puff pastry (I used puff as this is what I had to hand, use short crust, or make your own – you decide)
  • 1 bunch of Asparagus
  • 3 eggs
  • 300ml of sour cream
  • 100ml milk
  • About 50g grated cheese (I used smoked gouda)
  • Salt & Pepper

Start by snapping off the woody ends of the asparagus and blanching the spears in lightly salted boiling water for about 3 minutes. If you don’t have a wide enough saucepan to take the spears whole, use a deep frying pan filled with water. Drain, rinse in cold water and put to one side.

Turn the oven on to medium (180C in my fan oven)

Line a tin with greaseproof paper (optional) and lay the pastry inside. If you use a flan tin with a loose bottom you don’t need to line – it just makes life easier when it comes to lifting the tart out when it’s cooked if your tin does not have a loose bottom.

Trim the pastry to fit and prick lightly with a fork.

Beat the remaining ingredients (except the asparagus) together and season. Pour into the pastry case then lay the spears gently on top.  Bake for about 45 minutes until lightly puffed up and just starting to turn golden.

Delicious hot or cold, but leave it to cool down slightly for at least 5 minutes before cutting. The addition of sour cream gives you a soft, fluffy filling, almost mousse like. Lovely with a simple dressed salad and great too for picnics.

A Vegetarian Feast – Mushroom Risotto with Asparagus

We love risotto and I make it often. Some folk are nervous about it, thinking it will be a pain to stand and stir, and worrying if the rice will be over cooked or undercooked. Relax, pour yourself a lovely glass of wine and just enjoy about half an hour of gently attending to your dish while your mind sorts out the worries of the day. The diners will eat when the risotto is ready. No sooner, no later. And if you don’t like your rice too “al dente”…well you’re in charge, you can cook it for longer.

It’s a great dish too for using up whatever you have to hand. Personally I’m not so keen on meat risottos so this is a good option for us on the days when we choose not to eat meat or fish. To make this vegan you’d need to use vegan cheese and leave out the splosh of cream at the end – it will still taste amazing, I promise.

Arroz con Champinones y Esparragos 042

Ingredients to serve 6 as a starter, 4 as a main

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 400g carnaroli or arborio rice
  • 1 finely chopped onion
  • 2 peeled and crushed cloves of garlic
  • About 10g of dried porcini mushrooms soaked in boiling water, drain and finely chop the mushrooms and reserve the liquid. Make the liquid up to 1.5 litres with vegetable stock and keep it hot
  • About 300g chestnut mushrooms, thinly sliced or finely chopped
  • A tablespoon of butter
  • Fresh parmesan
  • A good splosh of cream

Start by warming the oil in a deep frying pan and sweating the onions and garlic until soft. Add fresh mushrooms and cook gently until they are also soft then add the rice. Stir the rice in the pan to make sure all the grains are coated in oil then add the chopped reconstituted dried mushrooms.

Slowly add the hot stock, a couple of ladles full at a time, stir into the rice and when it has been absorbed, add more liquid. When the rice is almost cooked to your liking, turn the heat off and stir in the butter and cream, cover and leave to stand for 5 minutes.

Serve with griddled asparagus and large mushrooms (brush them with olive oil and season before cooking on a hot griddle) for a filling main course. Sprinkle with fresh parmesan as you serve if that takes your fancy.

Spring Salads

I always feel a bit of a fraud posting salad recipes as most of us conjure up salads from what we have in the fridge most of the time. Well, it makes sense.  But sometimes there are some really tasty combinations of ingredients just work so well together, it’s worth searching them out to make them specially.

The first one was inspired by a conversation with my parents at Christmas. We were eating some particularly good smoked salmon and they were reminiscing about their work in London in the 1970s and 1980s when they used to run some very funky nightclubs. I was the envy of the class having a young mum who wore silver platform boots and Green Mary Quant nail varnish to go to work but in typical fashion always wanted to be round visiting best pal Ria’s mum who baked cakes. There’s no pleasing young folk, as I am sure many of you will agree!

Their memory was of Ella Fitzgerald (oh yes, I’m shamelessly name dropping here) asking for English mustard to go with her smoked salmon, so of course we got out the mustard and I have to say, Ella certainly knew what she was asking for!

Smoked Salmon Salad (1)

Asparagus and Smoked Salmon Salad with a Mustard Mayonnaise

(Quantities are up to you, we ate this as a starter between 2)

  • Rocket leaves, asparagus spears (blanch the chopped stems first for a few minutes then add the tips for the last minute or so) slices of smoked salmon arranged to your liking on one of your favourite plates.
  • Drizzle a little olive oil over and a squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkle of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.
  • Serve with a dipping mayonnaise (homemade or otherwise) mixed in a ratio of about 5:1 with English mustard. Put on your favourite Disco collection cd and get on down.

If you enjoy asparagus, try this recipe out and see what you think.

Back in Spain here it’s orange season and we can’t get enough of them. They’re being sold at outrageously cheap prices for massive bags of them so we’re juicing them, eating them au naturel and in fruit salads and savoury salads. Here’s a favourite which we serve with grilled pork – the flavour of the sweet and sour oranges, the sharp onion and the creamy avocado contrast really well with the richness of the meat.

Orange & Avocado Salad (4)

Orange and Avocado Salad

  • Per person a peeled and chopped orange, half a peeled and chopped avocado, some thinly sliced sweet onion and a sprinkle of finely chopped parsley,
  • Sprinkle some coarse sea salt over and a drizzle of olive oil. If the oranges are particularly sweet squeeze over a little lemon juice and finish with a splash of balsamic vinegar. I used a Balsamic vinegar reduction which is not only pretty to look at as you can get all cheffy with it, it also has a very delicious intense flavour.

Go on, Spring into Spring and start to throw off those warming winter hotpots and give your favourite salads a chance again!

Bean meaning to mention…..

Beans! Well, not just beans but Winter salads.  Winter doesn´t have to mean an end to fresh delicious salads, but the colder weather means we probably want something a little more robust but no less fresh and delicious to eat as a light meal or to accompany grilled meats, fish or whatever takes your fancy.

Especially after Christmas, and all that heavy food, these are welcome light meals to ease the strain on the waistband. And talking of Christmas, belated greetings to you all and apologies for the silence. Almost regular service will be resumed this week, and I hope that you all had a wonderful time with your loved ones, I will be slowly catching up with your blog posts over the next week or so.

Anyway, back to the food.  We´ve been trying to support local shops as much as possible and to buy locally grown, seasonal vegetables in the absence of our own veggie garden or store cupboard. Sometimes though, you just have to give into cravings and buy things that are out of season or grown elsewhere. Green beans seem to be everywhere in the supermarkets now, along with mange tout and runner beans. Maybe it´s my body craving something fresh and crunchy that makes me respond to the vibrant green colour. Who knows, but the beans were delicious!

Ingredients are flexible in these two tasty dishes, they´re just meant to inspire you, not dictate to you. Use what you have available, enjoy the fresh flavours.

Bean & asparagus salad (1)

Green Bean and Asparagus Salad

  • Blanch green beans and asparagus until just tender, then run under cold water to stop them cooking further. Chop into bite sized pieces, add halved cherry tomatoes, a chopped avocado and some hard boiled egg. Sprinkle over some sliced jamon or grilled bacon (leave out for a veggie version) and dress a mix of with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, English mustard, a pinch of sugar and seasoning.

 Potato, bean & caper salad (4)

Potato, Roasted Red Pepper, Bean and Caper Salad

  • Mix together cubed boiled potatoes, strips of roasted red peppers, green beans and halved caper berries.  Make a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice and zest and salt and pepper. Mix the salad gently. As a little added luxury, drizzle over some truffle oil.

Best Friends and Favourite Foods

I am truly blessed when it comes to friends. I have some extra special best girlfriends who have been there for me through the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the youth and the wrinkles. Ria and I met at school, a wonderful convent in South London, and have been best friends ever since.

We laughed through our school days, she sent me stamps to write to her when I went to University as I was poor and she was earning. She also gave me a sewing box as a going away gift and still, to this day, gets me to adjust her clothes and sew on buttons. We even worked at the same company for a few years and mopped up the tears through tough endings to relationships in later years.

She invited me to a weekend with friends in Scotland without telling me we would be walking part of the West Highland Way. She knew I would have refused, but we had fun and I forgave her, eventually.  Then I told her she was doing a run to raise money for Charity and she didn´t complain once.

Hot, sweaty but very happy with what we achieved!

We know and love each other´s families like our own, and also know our way around each other´s kitchens. Very important indeed.

When we both hit 40 within a month of each other (not soooo long ago), we threw a massive party then went off on a Round the World Trip.  I have a lovely photo of us on our last day before we headed back to London. It was taken in Hong Kong on the Kowloon ferry. We don´t look glamorous, or made up. In fact we look exhausted, a little chilly, but happy. We had spent about 3 months in each other´s company 24/7 and not a cross word or row, just fun, laughter and quite a few adventures.

I moved to Spain permanently six years ago, and we had to find a new way to make things work across the miles.  E-mails, phone calls and of course, visits.

So, when your best buddy comes to visit you don´t want to spend too much time in the kitchen as there is talking, laughing, dog walking and wine drinking to be done.

We barbecued squid which we enjoyed in the sunshine.

We ate what we jokingly called a “deconstructed chicken salad sharing platter for friends” – cold cooked chicken, spiced cauliflower, a platter full of delicious vegetables and topped with blanched then grilled asparagus with a lemon dressing and mayonnaise. Perfect for sharing.

And of course, my best friend knows how much I adore curry, so several happy hours were spent in the kitchen cooking up a storm, or the “Cortijo Curry” as we called it. Goat curry, tarka dhal, spinach and tomato curry, poppadums and roti.

I´ll share the recipes with you soon, but now I´m tired, happy and sad, and rather full up, so I´ll leave you with a photo of the perfect dessert for friends who don´t have time to make dessert.

Salteado de Espárragos, Habas y Setas – Sautéed Asparagus, Broad Beans and Mushrooms

This recipe of sautéed (or stir fried as very little oil is used) vegetables is fantastic as it can be used as a vegetable dish, a starter, or served with fried or poached eggs as a light lunch or supper. Add jamon or bacon for non vegetarians (as I did) and it becomes more filling or stir it into scrambled eggs.  See? Lots of options!

Ingredients

  • About 24 thin spears of asparagus, finely chopped (reserve spears)
  • ½ cup of broad beans (no need to skin)
  • 2 or 3 large oyster mushrooms cut into thin strips
  • About 6-8 mushrooms and stalks finely sliced
  • 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • 4 slices of jamon or bacon finely chopped (optional)
  • Olive oil

Start by simmering the asparagus (not the tips) and broad beans for 3-4 minutes in boiling water. Lift them out with a slotted spoon and then cook the tips of the spears for a minute or two until tender, reserving them separately. The stock is good for using as a soup base or for cooking rice.

In a frying pan warm a little oil and gently cook the garlic until it is soft but not brown. Add the mushrooms and stir to coat in oil then cover and cook gently until the mushrooms are soft and giving off a little liquid.

Add the asparagus tips and broad beans, stir and cover and cook for a further 5 minutes. If you like your vegetables very tender, add half a cup of water and cook until it has evaporated. If using bacon or jamon, add, turn the heat up and fry until slightly crispy. Stir in the asparagus tips, season and serve.

Fried for Big Man…I prefer poached…

This would also be lovely used in a risotto or stirred into pasta….or add cream and mix with gnocchi.

Arroz Caldoso con Habas y Esparragos – Rice with Broad Beans and Asparagus

Spanish rice is a little different from Italian risotto rice. Like risotto rice it is generally cooked in a large amount of flavoured stock (for example in a paella) but the grains stay separate rather than turning creamy.  However, use whatever you have, it will still be a wonderfully delicious dish.

To keep it vegetarian, use water or the stock from cooking the vegetables, otherwise chicken stock will add extra flavour.

And before the recipe, a little word about how we eat our broad beans around here. In the photo you will see about 1 ½ kilos of beans from our veggie patch. Many people here simply top and tail them and then chop them into chunks. Almost nothing is wasted, the pods are eaten too unless they are especially tough. The pods which give the biggest beans are more mature, and are less digestible.

It seems sad to me to throw so much away (although our chickens would be glad of such a sweet and tasty treat). I pod my beans and then finely chop the outer shells which I braise until tender and then add the beans to the dish at a later stage. Sometimes I simmer the beans for a few minutes and then pop them out of their skins, but this is a rare extravagance, although it does add amazing colour.

So, the choice is yours…single pod, double pod or use the shells and beans together…it´s up to you!

Ingredients – For two hungry people as a main course or four as a starter

  • 1 cup of Spanish Paella Rice (or rice of your choice)
  • About 5-6 cups of water, vegetable stock or chicken stock
  • The braised pods from about 750 grams of broad beans (weight before preparing)
  • The blanched beans from the pods (save the cooking water if you want to keep this vegetarian)
  • About 150g asparagus cut into 1cm pieces. Reserve the tips, blanch them, drain and set aside
  • About 6 mushrooms thinly sliced (optional)
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Seasoning
  • Olive oil for frying

Put a few tablespoons of oil in a deep pan or pot and add the garlic, bay leaf, bean pods (if using) and asparagus stalks and fry gently until the garlic is soft. Add the rice and coat it in oil for a minute or two then add 3 cups of the stock.

Bring to the boil and cook on a medium heat until the rice starts to absorb the liquid. Add the rest of the liquid and when the rice is almost cooked add the broad beans and mushrooms. Simmer until the mushrooms are tender, season, discard the bay leaf, cover and remove from the heat. The rice needs to rest for 3-5 minutes. If during the cooking period the rice gets too dry, just add a little more liquid. Typically Arroz Caldoso (which translates as rice with broth) is served more liquid than a paella or risotto and eaten with a spoon – but you decide how you like it.

Finally, stir in the asparagus tips and serve with some fresh lemon to squeeze over.

We ate ours with the leftover pork belly which I cut into slices and dry fried to remove the fat, to heat it through and to allow it to crisp up.

Gnocchi in a Creamy Asparagus Sauce

I have previously mentioned my love of potatoes, and being a big fan of carbs, a plate of gnocchi really hits the spot.  Today we´ll be using a packet of ready made gnocchi, as this is a speedy dish that looks gourmet, and we all like those.

Would Madam like a lifejacket with her sauce?

The sauce is enough for four.  Of course, rather than save half for another day, we used it all and had our gnocchi swimming in a delicious creamy sauce.  Shame on us.

Ingredients

  • 1 packet gnocchi
  • 200ml of pouring or single cream
  • 2 tablespoons of milk
  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • 2 tablespoons of soft blue cheese (optional but highly recommended)
  • Fresh parmesan for grating
  • Some chopped cooked lardons, bacon or jamon for sprinkling over the finished dish (or leave these out if you want to keep it vegetarian)
  • Seasoning

Start by finely chopping the asparagus, leaving the aside the tips.  Cook in salted water (not the tips) until tender and remove with a slotted spoon. Now cook the tips, drain and set aside, keeping warm if possible. You can always save the cooking liquid to add to vegetable stick or soup.

In a blender jug put the cream, milk, blue cheese (if using), asparagus (again, not those tips!) and plenty of black pepper.  Blitz until you have a smooth thick cream and put into a small saucepan.

Boil the water for your gnocchi, add salt, and cook until they float to the top.  While they are cooking, gently warm the cream sauce, taste and add salt if necessary.

When the gnocchi are done, drain and mix the cream sauce in, place into warmed serving dishes. Sprinkle over the asparagus tips and jamon or bacon (if using) and grate over some fresh parmesan.  Speedy, luxurious, delicious.

For some other wonderful suggestions of what to do with asparagus, check out RaeDi´s Pizza recipe here and Greg´s Lemon Asparagus here.

On Thursday Big Man and I are heading to London for a week to catch up with family, friends and food. My parents are probably one of the few families on the planet who don´t have internet, so although I may post again before Thursday, I won´t be able to read blogs or comment from Wednesday evening until we get back when I will do a big “catch up”.  Hopefully we´ll come home with lots of lovely foodie goodies and some good eating experiences to share with you all.

Update – I have added this recipe to Greenslove´s recipes, check out Linda´s link here at Savoring Every Bite for more info