Ah, white asparagus. In Germany it is known as spargel and called the ‘royal vegetable’. It was usually available for only six weeks –– May to the feast of John the Baptist on June 24th , but new sources have extended the old time frame and made for a longer season—mine came from Peru! In an article by Amy Rosen, I read that during the cutting time in Germany they eat them a thousand ways and relish every ivory morsel… eating nearly a pound per serving per person.
What to do with a royal vegetable??? The minute I saw the ingredient I knew what I wanted to make. White asparagus in pastry was one of those indelible taste memories from my past that remained firmly fixed and waiting to be made one day. This blog is nothing if not an excuse to rekindle glories of past flavors… it isn’t called Lost Past Remembered for nothing.
I had this dish a lifetime ago on an early trip to Paris. We discovered La Fermette Marbeuf in the 8th Arrondisment quite by accident on a walk. Its story is like a fairytale. It was an Art Nouveau wonder that had been covered up for nearly 80 years when the style had become unfashionable. I am mad for Art Nouveau and for long lost treasures found so this was pure magic for me.
The room sat waiting undisturbed for generations until a new owner discovered it quite by accident while doing renovations in 1978. It remains a love song to the style and is still a popular place after all this time. The amazing site, Paris 1900 has a splendid history of the place HERE
It was a whirlwind trip that had me mad with pleasure, crawling over Paris’ Art Nouveau treasures and this dish sits happily ensconced in my brain as a taste of a very great visit: puff pastry base, white asparagus lacquered with a meat glaze infused with sauterne atop a custard with a bit of foie gras in the bargain… that is how it now lies in my memory at any rate. Did it live up to the taste I remember??? Yes ––it was that same ethereal pastry with a thousand crisp layers as delicate as Lalique dragonfly wings that shatter like old glass when you bite into them. In that bite you taste the sweetness of the wine in the glaze and the warm coverlet of rich creamy custard above and wine-scented foie gras nestled below. This dish elevates the asparagus to royal stature indeed.
To make it I did my own puff pastry (recipe below) but it would work with bought pastry if you are pressed for time (making your own isn’t hard and much cheaper... even using organic butter!). However, I must say, the duck fat in the recipe works magic and created an enormous loft thanks to many turns, and I wanted to go the extra mile for this dish… honor the memory.
In that spirit, I used Hungarian Esszencia Tokaji instead of sauterne. I was lucky enough to have tiny, 100ml bottle of the ’93 from my friends at The Rare Wine Company (Mr. Parker rated it 99… it’s that good… a thick syrup redolent of apricots and celestial nectar). It’s a wine I’ve wanted to try since reading about it in college in my favorite antique (1932) wine book, The Romance of Wine, where the 1811 was described as having “a wonderful aftertaste that spreads over palate and gullet like a peacock’s tail. It might be compared, almost without exaggeration, to the harmony of sunset colours. The bottle can be opened and left indefinitely without apparent injury to the wine which has a radium-like power of emitting particles of perfume without exhausting itself.” It is probably the most celebrated wine you’ve never heard of –– but I’m going to change that.
1811 Bottle of Tokaji is supposed to be one of the greatest of all 19th century wines (this was labeled in the 1920s)
The very informative Tokaji site said, “Hand-selected botrytis -affected berries, which are later needed for Aszú preparation, are gathered into a keg and kept in it for a couple of days before the Aszú paste is prepared. Due solely to the berries’ own weight alone, some highly concentrated juice of the finest quality will have accumulated on the bottom of the keg. This is the free-run juice that Essencia is made from. One keg containing 25 kilograms of over-ripe Aszu berries produces only between 1 and 1.5 liters of Essencia.” It ferments for 4 years and the resulting wine lasts hundreds of years… it was thought to be immortal and have curative benefits. There was a claim it could restore an invalid to good health!
In 1703, Francis the Prince of Transylvania gave some Imperial Tokaji to Louis XIV of France. When Louis shared it with his beloved Madame de Pompadour, he said it was “Wine of Kings, King of Wines” (Vinum Regnum, Rex Vinorum) and the compliment is still repeated. Queen Victoria was a huge fan and Emperor Franz Josef sent her a bottle for every month she lived on her birthday. The last year of her life she received 972 bottles! It was a favorite of Beethoven, Lizst, Shubert, and Voltaire. Napoleon, Gustav of Sweden, Peter the Great and Elizabeth of Russia all were fond of the wine. Even the infamous enjoyed it… Hitler celebrated his marriage to Eva Braun with Tokaji. It really is a cool wine with a remarkable story… had to use it for this dish.
The spectacular foie gras, demiglace and duck fat for the pastry came from D’Artagnan and can be ordered online by clicking the links. This is one of those dishes that will knock your socks off… I made my dream version but you can put this together easily if you buy puff pastry. It was good hot or warm and could also be made in smaller sizes or doubled for 4.
White Asparagus in Puff Pastry with Foie Gras Custard and Ezssencia (or Sauterne) for 2
20 stems white asparagus (make that 12 if thick)
1/8 lb foie gras (optional)
1 T butter
½ c cream
2 egg yolks
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 c demiglace from D'Artagnan
2-3 T St Andre or any mild triple crème cheese without the rind.
Peel the asparagus
Steam the Asparagus over boiling water…. 3 minutes and remove. Cool.
Take the square, cut a 1” frame into the pastry, making sure not to cut all the way through… use a very sharp knife. Pierce the middle section with a fork all over. Place a piece of parchment not much bigger than the pastry (if it is too big it drags a side down... like mine did!!) on top and cook for 10 Min at 425º on the upper half of the oven, lower the heat to 375º, remove the paper and cook another 7-10 minutes and remove. When cooled a little, take out the mid-section if it has risen high in the middle and stick it back in the oven for another 5 minutes to dry out the inside… remember you are going to cook this more so it shouldn’t be dark…. Make sure your oven is accurate. If it has stayed low (ie the pastry middle has not risen wildly like mine did!), put it back for 5 minutes if it is not a pale gold.
Sauté the foie gras in 1 T butter with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Brown on both sides. Add 1 T esszencia or sauterne to the mix and remove.
Reduce the Demi glace to a syrup, about 3 T –– take care, it does get thick quickly after taking a long while to start reducing. Remove from the heat and add 2 T Esszencia or sauterne.
Combine 1/2 c cream and 2 egg yolks, pinch nutmeg, pinch salt.
Smear St Andre cheese over warm pastry. Measure your asparagus to fit into the shell and set aside.
Put foie gras over the bottom of the pastry.
Pour the custard over the foie gras and cook for 10 minutes, remove.
Place the asparagus over the top, cook 10 minutes, remove. Ladle the demiglas over the top and put in the 375 for 20 minutes or until the custard is set and the asparagus has just begun to brown.
Puff Paste with Duck Fat (this is enough for 4 tarts–– freeze the rest)
1 lb + 3 ½ T (510g) cold unsalted butter
2 t (10 ml Lemon juice
1 c (130g) bread flour
pinch of salt
3 c (400 g) bread flour (freeze it)
3 ½ T (55g) duck fat, frozen)
2 t Salt
1 c cold water (start with 3/4 and add as needed, you may not need a whole cup)
Mix the butter and the flour and lemon and salt into a paste, make a 6” square and chill on wax paper till firm
Make the dough as you would pasta, knead very sparingly and refrigerate.
Make the dough into a rectangle and put the butter in the center in a diamond... fold the dough around it like an envelope, bringing the 4 outer points to the center of the butter. If it’s hot, chill. Otherwise roll it to a rectangle and fold it like a brochure and chill ½ an hour. Roll it out and do it again 6 times, resting for ½ an hour in the fridge each time.
I left mine overnight after the last turn and rolled it out the next day.
Announcement: For the first time since beginning this blog, I am going to take a break for a few weeks.
I will be concentrating on my writing and working hard. I'll miss the blog and my blogging friends since I will not be able to visit all of my favorites as often as I would like during this time... No distractions! I'll be back soon, promise!!!
Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!!
Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!!