Spaghetti Squash

I recently came across something that I hadn’t eaten since living in the States many, many moons ago: spaghetti squash. You probably won’t find this in Irish or UK supermarkets, but should come across it in farmers’ markets. It is a dark yellow winter squash, a little smaller than a rugby ball and not as pointy. From the outside, it gives no clue to the surprise waiting inside: a myriad of golden spaghetti-like strands. These are fragrant, slightly sweet and nutty in taste. And provided you have not cooked the living bejasus out of the squash, still have a little bite!

Seeing as it was so long since I had cooked the stuff, I had to do a little web research to see how. I found a good video at Dani Spies’ website. I was in a bit of a hurry, so followed the suggestion of microwaving it, turning it over once after half the cooking time. In my case, it seemed to need about 12mins per kg at 1000 Watt, but it probably depends on how ripe the squash is and your microwave. Be sure to puncture the squash through to the core about a dozen times with a heavy knive to minimise the chances of the whole thing exploding in the microwave.

When cooked, leave to cool for 5 minutes, chop off the stalk end and split lengthways. Remove the seeds and then pull the strands of ‘spaghetti’ with a fork. The are lots of things you could then do with said ‘spaghetti’ but since I was in a hurry, I just dressed it with some butter, grated parmesan, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and some salt and pepper. A squash of 1.5kg will easily give enough for 4 side portions or 2 main portions. It was really delish and I urge you to try it, as well as the other delicious squashes currently in season.

Beef and Guinness Stew

Beef and Guinness Stew

Classic Irish dish for those winter evenings. Sort of an Irish version of the French daube, with our national tipple replacing the red wine. There’s nothing at all complicated about this stew and it tastes so good. I urge you to give it a try. There’s a slight twist in this recipe, which I based on one in Darina Allen’s Simply Delicious 2 book. A spoon of mustard and a small strip of orange peel add complexity and aroma to the dish. You don’t have to use Guinness: any stout will do. The only change you need to make is to adjust the amount of sugar: Murphy is a little sweeter and will need less. In fact, Guiness is probably the most bitter of the common stouts, so the amount of sugar in the recipe is an upper limit. I suggest using a heavy flameproof casserole such as Le Creuset and finishing the stew in a low oven, but if you don’t have one, you can use a frying pan and a simple ovenproof dish. Failing this you can make the whole dish on top of the stove in a big pot, finishing over a very low heat. If possible, don’t use a teflon pan for sealing the meat, as the little bits that stick to the bottom of the pan add great depth to the overall flavour. This dish can be reheated the next day: in fact, many would say the flavour improves overnight.

Summary

Makes: 4 very good portions
Preparation: 30mins
Cooking: 2 hours

Ingredients

1kg
~750ml
3
4
2 r. tbsp
2 tsp
2 r. tsp
Stewing beef (not absolutely lean!)
Guinness or other stout
Onions
Medium carrots
Tomato paste
Mustard powder (or 2 tsp (rounded) made-up mustard)
Sugar
Salt
Pepper
Small strip orange peel (max 1cm long if waxed)
Bouquet garni (bay, thyme, parsley stalks)
Olive oil (even better ghee or clarified butter)
Flour
Parsley 

25cm flameproof casserole or similar

Note

Ideally you should use peel from an unwaxed orange. In such cases you can use a good amount: 2 or 3cm is no problem. However, if you can only get waxed oranges, then you need much less, at most 1cm. Even then, scrub the surface of the orange under boiling water first. Otherwise the flavour will totally dominate the dish.

Method

Cut the meat into nice-sized chunks (about 2cm), trimming any obvious fat. Slice the onions thinly. Season the meat with salt and pepper and dredge in the flour, shaking off any excess.

Put the casserole over a medium to high heat. Add oil to cover the bottom. When hot, add enough meat to form one layer. Don’t overcrowd the pot: it’s better to do several batches. Leave the meat to brown on all sides. Try to resist the temptation to continually push to meat around: we want it to brown nicely. Transfer to a dish and repeat until all the meat is sealed. You should have some nice golden brown bits of meat and flour stuck to the bottom by now. That’s OK as it will add flavour later. Next, drop the heat to low and add the onions and a little more oil. Fry until they start to colour, stirring regularly to make sure they don’t burn.

When the onions are ready, bring up the heat and add enough of the Guinness to deglaze the pot, making sure you free all the caramelised bits. Add about 750ml of the Guinness and let it bubble uncovered for a minute or two to burn off the alcohol. Then stir in the tomato paste, mustard and sugar. Return the meat and any juices to the pot. Tuck in the bouquet garni and the orange peel. You may need to add a litte more Guinness to just cover the meat.  Stir everything together and adjust the seasoning. When the pot comes back to the boil, cover and place in a prewarmed oven set to 150°C.

After about 1 hour, slice the peeled carrots to around 5mm and stir into the pot. Another hour or so later, the meat should be beautifully tender, the carrots cooked and the stew lovely and thick. Remove the bouquet garni and the orange peel. Transfer to a warmed serving bowl and sprinke with some chopped parsely. Serve accompanied by some plain boiled potatoes or good bread. Enjoy!

Zucchini Parmigiana

 

Lovely lasagne-type dish but with zucchini playing the role of the pasta. Can also be made with aubergine (melanzana). This dish can be prepared well ahead of time and then assembled and finished in the oven to make a delicious dinner!

Summary

Makes: 4 portions
Preparation: 30mins
Cooking: 30mins + 30mins

Ingredients

Sugo

6
500g
1
1 sm. clove
1 tsp
Tomatoes
Passata
Onion
Garlic
Good olive oil
Dried basil
Salt
Pepper

The Rest

2 maybe 3

2



200g
50g
Zucchini
Flour
Eggs
Salt
Pepper
Sunflower oil
Mozarella
Pecorino or parmesan

Method

This dish can be made in several stages, a considerable time in advance. I will describe frying the egged and floured zucchini first, as this is the messiest stage, followed by making the sugo and then finally assembling the dish. You can of course make the sugo in parallel with frying the zucchini if you run a well organised kitchen!

As you need to slice the zucchini thinly lengthwise, life becomes much easier if you can use some sort of mandolin. Failing that you’ll need a large chef’s knife and a steady hand. Slice the zucchini thinly (2-3mm), discarding the outer slice or two, and pat dry using some kitchen paper. You need to be organised for the frying stage. Assuming you’re right handed (apologies to any citeogs!), set up the following assembly line from right to left: plate containing zucchini; plate with lightly beaten eggs; plate next to stove with seasoned flour; large frying pan containing sunflower oil to allow a certain degree of deep-frying; and a plate with kitchen paper to receive the fried zucchini.

Proceed as follows. First dip the zucchini slice in the egg, then lightly in the flour and place in the pan. Repeat until the pan is comfortably full but not crowded. Turn each slice once and transfer to the plate with the kitchen paper when golden. Repeat until all zucchini is used up. You may need to change the oil during the process. If you’re really adventurous, you can have two pans on the go!

For the sugo, chop the onion finely and fry over a medium heat in a little olive oil in a medium saucepan. Crush the garlic clove and add to the onion. Chop the tomatoes and remove the seeds. When the onion is soft, add the tomatoes, passata and basil. Season with salt and pepper. Depending on the sweetness of your tomatoes, you may want to add a teaspoon of sugar. Once the mixture has come to the boil, reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer for 30 minutes or so to let the flavours integrate.

When you’re ready to make dinner, preheat the oven to 180°C, grate the cheeses and mix together. Smear a little olive oil around the inside of an ovenproof shallow dish. Spread a small amount of the sugo on the bottom. Next lay out a layer of zucchini. Cover this with sugo and then a little cheese. Place another layer of zucchini running perpindicular to the first and again cover with sugo and cheese. Repeat until the zucchini used up. Finish with a thin layer of sugo and cheese. Place in the oven and bake until the cheese is starting to turn golden, about 25 minutes.

Enjoy!

Shakskuka

Shakshuka

The classic combination of tomatoes and eggs can be found all over the world. This dish has a North African accent with the addition of cumin. Apparently it originates in Tunisa, but is common all across North Africa and in Israel, to where it was brought by Tunisian Jews. I’ve seen a very similar dish called Persian Eggs, so who knows where it really comes from. Who cares either, since it tastes so good.  It’s quick and easy to prepare, which makes it great for mid-week dinner. Try to use really ripe tomatoes: it makes all the difference. The flavours are great in the winter too but it’s very difficult to get hold of ripe tomatoes, so you can use good tinned tomatoes.

Summary

Makes: 4 portions
Preparation: 15mins
Cooking: 20mins

Ingredients

1kg
1
4
2
3 cloves
1 r.tsp
1
1 r.tsp
Tomatoes or 3 tins of whole plum tomatoes
Red pepper (optional)
Eggs
Onions
Garlic
Cumin (pre-ground is OK too)
Bird’s eye chilli (optional)
Sugar (depending on ripeness of tomatoes)
Salt
Pepper
Good olive oil
Flat-leaved parsley
.
25cm frying pan and lid

Method

Wash the tomatoes. Cut into quarters and scoop out the seeds, leaving just the flesh. Cut each quarter in half again. Half the onions and slice quite thinly. Slice the red pepper if using. Chop the garlic roughly and break up the bird’s eye chilli with the back of a knife.

If using tinned tomatoes don’t include all the juice as the dish will be too runny.

Cover the bottom of the pan with olive oil and place on a medium to low heat. When the oil is hot add the onions and chilli (if using), followed a couple of minutes later by the garlic and the red pepper if using. Fry gently, stirring occasionally, until the onion is just starting to colour. In the meantime, roast the cumin lightly, grind coarsely and add to the pan just as the onions are ready.

Add the tomatoes and a spoon of sugar. Adjust the seasoning. Mix a little to distribute the ingredients equally. Cook gently for about 10 minutes until the tomatoes are soft but not mush. Make a small well near the edge of the pan and break the first egg into it. Repeat around the pan with the other eggs. Crack a little black pepper on each. Place the lid on the pan to help the eggs poach. After about 3 minutes the whites should be set and the yolks still runny, which is the way we like them.

Sprinke with some chopped parsely and serve straight from the pan with some crusty white bread to mop up the juices.

Country Rhubarb Cake

Country Rhubarb Cake

This delicious dessert is a real blast from the past – just like Mammy used to make! I got this recipe from Darina Allen’s Simply Delicious 2 book. You can vary the filling depending on which fruits are in season. Just remember to adjust the sugar as rhubarb is considerably sourer than most other fruit. The original recipe was in imperial units so some of the amounts are a little uneven. Also granulated sugar was used to sprinkle over the rhubarb but it turns out just fine using all caster sugar.

Summary

Makes: 10 portions
Preparation: 20 mins
Cooking: 45 mins approx

Ingredients

750g
340g
165ml
250g
85g
2
½ tsp
Pinch

1

Rhubarb
Flour
Buttermilk
Caster sugar
Butter
Eggs
Bread soda
Salt

25cm ovenproof plate (Pyrex or similar)

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Wipe the rhubarb clean with a damp cloth, top’n’tail and cut into 1cm pieces. Reserve. Break one egg into a cup and mix to use as an egg wash.

Sieve the flour into a bowl. Add 50g of caster sugar, the bread soda and a pinch of salt. Rub in the butter. Break one egg into the butter milk and mix until the egg is incorporated. Make a well in the flour and add most of the buttermilk mixture. Mix to a soft but not sticky dough, adding as much of the remaining buttermilk as is necessary.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into two pieces, one a bit bigger than the other. Take the smaller piece and spread it out with your hands to cover the plate. This forms the base of the cake. Pile the rhubarb onto the base and sprinkle with all but a couple of teaspoons of the remaining sugar. Egg wash the edge of the base. Roll out the remaining dough to a size big enough to cover the rhubarb and base completely – about 10cm bigger than the plate diameter. Seal the edges and trim any scraggly bits.

Brush with egg wash and make a small hole in the top to let the steam escape. Bake in the oven until nicely golden – about 45 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar and leave to cool for about 15 minutes to allow the juices soak into the base.

Serve with some freshly whipped cream.

Food Report: Paris 9 – March 2009

On a recent trip to Paris, we based ourselves in the 9th arrondissement, which is a lively area just north of the Grands Boulevards. There was no shortage of restaurants in the area, so we decided to do our eating there. Officially we were being vegetarian for Lent but seeing as it was St. Patrick’s weekend and we were in Paris, we decided to let ourselves fall off the wagon, so to speak.

Le 7eme Sens, 7 rue Cadet, 75009 Paris

This small restaurant was around the corner from our hotel and seemed to be run by a family team. The food was good, although service was a little slow to start. For starters we had deep fried goats cheese in filo pastry and a pork terrine. I liked the terrine but Anna wasn’t crazy on the cheese. My main was a rabbit casserole and Anna had a sea bass filet. We had cheese and creme brulee, washed down by two espressos, to finish. The price including two glasses of champagne and a bottle of Cahors red wine came to €93.

Les Diables au Thym, 35 rue Bergere, 75009 Paris

This was a more upmarket restaurant than on the previous night but was fairly empty for a Saturday night. One of the nice things about France is the lack of any issue in eating veal, which featured heavily on the menu here. After perusing the menu over a couple of flutes of champagne, we decided to start with a crab terrine and the classic Tete de Veau with sauce gribiche. Neither were particularly memorable, but at least after years of wondering what Tete de Veau, or calf’s head, tastes like, I now know not to bother ordering it again.

The main courses were veal liver and Quasi de Veau, which seems to be a lean cut from the hind quarter. Both were good although, I would have preferred the liver a little moister. It seemed to have been poached and then seared. While it was very tender and tasty, it was also a little on the dry side, which ironically is often a side effect of poaching meat. The desserts were frozen lemon with ice cream and rum baba. The latter was exceptional. We finished off with two espressos.

The wine was a somewhat extravagant €44 for a nice bottle of Savigny. The total bill came to €146, which is a little more like the prices we’re used to in Dublin. While the meal was still better value than at home, it was far and away the most expensive, but not most memorable, meal of the weekend.

L’Orient D’Or, 22 rue de Trevise, 75009 Paris

At home we tend to eat out on Sunday evenings, rather than on Saturday: there’s more freedom to choose at short notice. We often choose ethnic restaurants for these meals. So although in Paris, why break an old habit? Not having any definite restaurant in mind, we ended up in the L’Orient D’Or on the corner opposite the famous Folies Bergere. This was a Chinese restaurant specialising in the Hunan Xiang style. The place was packed and most promisingly we were practically the only non-Chinese there.

I have spent quite a lot of time in China but am not too familiar with Hunan cooking, except knowing that it is la or spicy. We were offered some advice from our neighbour and ended up choosing jaozi dumplings, stir-fried Chinese cabbage with lots of chillies, aubergine and eel, both of which were prepared in the Xiang style. The food was excellent and along with a couple of big bottles of Tsingtao beer, the bill came to €53.

Chartier, 7 rue du Faubourg Montmartre, Paris 75009

Instead of having our usual extravagant going home lunch at Atelier Joel Robouchon we decided it was time to revisit the incomparable but incredibly cheap Chartier. Now, you shouldn’t go to Chartier expecting haute cuisine: it offers bistro classics, in a great space, and with a great atmosphere. You can’t be too precious here, as you’ll be seated wherever there’s room and will often share a table with complete strangers. This restaurant does not take bookings and is so popular that there’s nearly always a queue to get in.

We started with a celeriac salad and some prawns served with mayonnaise. Anna found the salad a little heavy but the prawns were simple and good. Mains were quenelles of pike and andouillete sausage. The quenelles didn’t contain too much pike but the andouillete was excellent. Dessert were the bistro classics iles flottant and coupe Mont Blanc. We finished with two espressos.

Along with a half litre of house wine the bill came to the grand total of €43. And we were also treated to a stand-up row between two of the waiting staff. Unbeatable!

Food Report: Bentley’s Dublin – Autumn 2008, Spring 2009

In summer 2008, I went to Browne’s on St Stephen’s Green to book dinner for a special occasion, only to discover that it was closed and due to reopen shortly as Bentley’s under the stewardship of Richard Corrigan. While slightly inconvenienced at having to look a little further for a dinner venue, I was nonetheless very excited about the prospects of a Richard Corrigan restaurant in Dublin. Needless to say the place was jammed for a few months, so we put off trying to get a table until later in the year.

Our first visit was late in 2008. I’m ashamed to say that I can’t remember everything we had that evening, as encycloFEEDIA.com wasn’t even a glint in my eye at that stage and correspondingly I forgot to keep the receipt. However, I do know when we arrived a few minutes early, we we brought upstairs to the club-like Aviator’s Lounge for a cocktail until our table became free. My Martini with oyster liquor was very tasty. Starters were a mixed plate of oysters and stuffed baby squid, both of which were excellent. Mains were fish pie and Dover sole. The fish pie came with a small bottle of green Tabasco, without which it tasted of nothing at all. However, with a few splashes of said sauce, it tasted good, but surely that should be taken care in the kitchen. The Dover sole was tasty but overdone: quite unforgivable at nearly €50. I can’t remember what wine we had, but overall we were satisfied enough to give the restaurant a second try.

Our second visit came at the end of March this year. This time there were thee of us. It was a Sunday evening, but the place was buzzing. Looking at the menu, I got the impression that prices had gone up by a euro or so for many dishes, but I couldn’t be 100% sure, as I no longer have the receipt from the previous visit. However, one thing is certain: several prices have gone up again in intervening period. This seems very strange at a time when other restaurants are dropping prices. I found it particularly hard to find any reasonably priced wine and ended up paying €18.00 for 250ml Albariño and €18.50 for 250ml Cahor, with €13.75 for another glass. These wines were nothing special, which makes the prices all the more scandalous.

Starters were 9 Carlingford Oysters at €15.50, Stuffed Baby Squid at €11.95 and Chicken Liver Parfait at €12.00. The squid was easily the best of these; the oysters were good; and the parfait was deemed ‘alright’. Mains were Bourride of Fish at €25.50, and Salmon Fishcakes twice at €16.75, as well as sides of chips and mixed greens at €4.90 each. The Bourride was very disappointing and not at all like a bourride. It was also very small for the price. The fishcakes had the opposite problem: there was too much. It would have been much better to serve just one each and add some chips or other side. On top of that they were dry, bland and had a suspiciously crunchy breadcrumb coating. For dessert we had the Tart of the Day and some cheese. The cheese was quite good. Finishing off with some tea at €3.50 a cup and espresso at €3.20, the bill came to €220.95, which already included a 12.5% service charge.

We felt ripped off and that the restaurant was living off the repuation of Richard Corrigan. The food was nothing special and for some dishes quite overpriced. Wine prices were extortionate. We had a follow-up issue that was not handled well and I may describe this in a future post.

We will not be back, which is a shame given the restaurant’s location and potential.

Tortilla

Tortilla

Tortilla, or Spanish omelette, is a staple in any decent tapas bar. The egg and potato mix flavoured with the sweet onions is one of my favourite foods. As so often, the simple things are best. There is a little bit of work involved but effort is worth it and the omelette can be kept for several days in the fridge, if you can resist the temptation to scoff it all in one sitting. Practically every Spaniard will have an opinion on how to make the perfect tortilla. Opinon is split on the role of the onions. Some use only the onion-flavoured oil: others incorporate the onions in the omelette. I fall into the latter camp. The Spanish say floury potatoes are best but I can only assume they have something very different in mind when they say floury than we Irish do. I find any potato that would boil on the dry side suitable and most often use a variety such as Exquisa, which are also small. The amount of potato might seem excessive, but as long as they fit in the pan that’s OK: the egg really serves to bind everthing together.

Summary

Makes: 6 tapas portions
Preparation: 10mins
Cooking: 20mins + 10mins + 10mins

Ingredients

50ml
2
500g
4
Good olive oil
Onions
Potatoes
Eggs
Salt
Pepper
Sunflower oil for deep frying

Method

Half the peeled onions lengthways and then slice quite thinly and evenly. Put the olive oil to heat over a medium ring. When the oil is hot, add the onions and cook until golden, stirring every now and then. Don’t let them burn. When ready separate the onions from the oil using a sieve and reserve the oil. Next on to the potatoes. Depending on your potatoes you may need to peel them. Then cut into small pieces about the size of the end of your thumb and about 5mm thick. Deep fry the potato pieces at a medium temperature (about 140ºC), lifting them out just as they start to turn golden along the edges. Don’t turn them into French fries! Remove the excess oil with some kitchen paper.

We’re now ready to make the tortilla. The amounts in this recipe are intended for a 20cm frying pan, which should be heavy-based and well seasoned or non-stick. If you use a 25cm pan you’ll need to add 50% to all the ingredients. You have to get the pan quite hot to start and then reduce the heat. This can be tricky if you have an electric hob, so it’s probably easiest to use two rings, one hot, one low to medium. The tortilla also needs to be turned during cooking and you will need a flat plate comfortably bigger than pan for this. It pays to be organised for this dish.

Crack the eggs into a clean bowl. Add the potatoes and onions, if using, along with salt and pepper. Mix well using a fork. Place the pan on the hotter ring and add enough of the reserved olive oil to coat the pan. When the pan is hot, mix the eggs again with the fork and tip into the pan. Move the pan to the low ring. After 3 or 4 minutes the underside should be cooked nicely. Take a peek and it should be golden. The top will still be a little runny. The tortilla is now ready to be turned. This is the only tricky part of the dish. Keep your strong hand for the pan. Place the plate upside down on the pan, with the rim of the plate near where the handle joins the pan. Hold the pan with your strong hand and press gently but firmly on the plate. Lift the pan up from the stove. Now, in one quick movement turn the assembly upside down and lift away the pan. The tortilla should now be sitting on the plate along with a little uncooked egg mixture.

Wipe out the pan and return to the hotter ring, adding enough oil to coat. When hot, slide the tortilla from the plate back into the pan, letting the uncooked egg in first. Move the pan to the low ring and let the tortilla finish cooking. Wipe the dinner plate clean and turn out the finished tortilla as before. Tortilla tastes best when eaten at room temperature.

Chou Farci (sort of!)

Chou Farci

This dish, made with the humblest of ingredients, is quite simply fantastic. Synergy is sometimes considered to be the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. If so, this dish has it in spades. It contains nothing more than green cabbage, plain sausage meat, a little butter and the smallest amounts of salt and pepper, but is one of the tastiest things you’ll ever encounter. The Swedes have something similar with Kålpudding, but it is an altogether coarser affair. I found this recipe in Tamasin Day Lewis’ Good Tempered Food, where she reports to have found it in a Jane Grigson book. We cook it on a regular basis and each time immediately look forward to the next time.

The name I have given here may be a little misleading as it implies stuffed cabbage. Although you could make it this way, this recipe is more like a lasagna. It is best to use lightly seasoned sausage meat (with at least 70% meat content) as the flavour is concentrated during the cooking and more heavily spiced mixes will completely dominate the dish.

Summary

Makes: 4 portions
Preparation: 20mins
Cooking: 2 hours

Ingredients

1 Head
400g
25g
Green cabbage (eg savoy)
Good sausage meat
Butter
Salt
Pepper

Method

Peel the leaves from the cabbage as far as you can. You may need to discard the outer leaves as they can be tough. Cut out the central stalk. Towards the core, it can be a bit fiddly, so just do the best you can. Wash the leaves thoroughly. Pour about 5cm of water into a large pot, salt lightly and bring to the boil. Add the cabbage, put the lid on and cook for 3 minutes. Drain, refresh and squeeze out any excess water.

If starting with sausages, slit the skins and press out the meat. Butter a casserole dish. We are now ready to assemble the dish. There will be 3 sausage meat layers and 4 cabbage layers. Try to keep the bigger, darker leaves for the top layer. Place some of the smaller leaves on the bottom to form a cushion to lift the meat off the bottom of the dish. Take one third of the sausage meat and spread it evenly over the cabbage. If you want, you can now very sparingly sprinkle a little salt and pepper. However, my advice would be to cook the dish once without doing this so you can get an idea of the flavour from your sausage meat. If necessary, next time you can season judiciously. Put a new layer of cabbage and then sausage meat until the sausage meat is used up. Finish with a layer of cabbage using the big, dark leaves. Dot some butter evenly around the top, place some greaseproof paper right on top to seal in the steam and put on a good fiiting lid. Place in an oven preheated to 150ºC and wait for 2 hours. The time isn’t too critical: I’ve eaten it plenty of times after 1½ hours.

Serve with cranberry sauce and plain boiled potatoes.

Asparagus Time

Spargelzeit in May is one of the two times each year that the normally reserved Germans get very excited about food. At this time of year the reason is asparagus, or to be more exact white asparagus. In Ireland we see very little of this wonderful vegetable except for some very sorry dried out specimens from Peru or Kenya. These are not the real thing, so I would urge you to try them if you’re in Germany or anywhere in central Europe at this time or get someone to bring a kilo or two home. Once you’ve tasted good fresh white asparagus, I think you might find it hard to get too excited about the green variety.

It is best to buy you asparagus directly from the grower or at least in the market. It really should be picked that morning. When you buy it, go for spears that are a little thicker than your thumb. Make sure the bottoms are not cracked as this is a sure sign they are drying out. Normally the spears should be kept damp by the seller. When you get them make sure to wrap them up tight. If you can, spinkle a little water on the them first. You can then store them for a day or two in the fridge.

To cook, you need to peel the stalks generously first, using a vegetable peeler. It’s best to lay them flat when doing this as they can easily snap. Trim the ends and reserve. There are purpose-designed asparagus pots, in which the asparagus is cooked standing up, and these are your best bet. However if you don’t have one a large frying pan is fine. Cook in lightly salted water until tender. You can also put a pinch of sugar in the water if you find the taste a little bitter. Don’t be tempted to cook the asparagus al dente as this leaves the bottoms of the stalks very tough and stringy, as well as not cooking out the bitterness. However, overcooking means you have wasted your money. You should aim for fork-tender.

There is any number of weird and wonderful recipes for asparagus (link ) but in my opinon, the simplest such as with butter and parmesan, or with hollandaise and a poached egg are the best. You can use the ends of the stalks and any broken spears as the basis for a delicious soup along the lines of Broccoli Stalk Soup .

By the way the other time the Germans get so excited about food, is in the autumn when the wild mushrooms start to come in.