A spare goose

 

Hey!  I think that kid in the lower left is wearing pajamas.

Go to any schoolyard, and talk to the kids about food likes and dislikes.  You’ll find out that French fries and pizza are big hits.  But my guess is that among the Brussel sprouts, liver and avocado, asparagus will land unequivocally among the top-ten “Ewww, Gross, No way!” list.

I’ve always been a fan.  Even when I was a kid, and asparagus came from a can, I liked those enigmatic green spears.

I don’t think I ever ate or even saw it fresh until I was in my teens.  Then I thought myself quite the gourmand to purchase, prepare, and eat pipe-cleaner sized asparagus.

And I thought that grassy was just the flavor of fresh.

Au contraire, mon frère.

One day, many years ago, I purchased some fresh asparagus.  On the tag was the farm’s phone number for more information about the veg, and recipes.  So, I called it.

The produce gods must have been smiling down on me that day because the phone was answered by the farm’s owner.  And this guy took me to asparagus school

Not the actual asparagus farmer.From left: Dancing Bear, Bunny Rabbit, Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Moose, and Mr. Green Jeans-my template for a farmer.

We spoke for at least an hour.  But by the time I hung up, he made sure I had a thorough understanding of his product.

The first thing we talked about is the life cycle of the plant.  It’s a perennial, meaning instead of starting a new plant every year, it grows year after year.  Many people already know this, but it must grow for a few years before the spears can be eaten.  But a healthy plant might last up to thirty years, with many happy springtime harvests.

But those pencil-thin, so-called babies?

no pencils

That’s what you get with a weak plant, or one that’s lived a full life and now is played out.  It is not, let me repeat this; not desirable.  It will never get the satisfying snap of a correctly cooked spear, and quelle surprise; tastes grassy because there is a surfeit of chlorophyll.

And this, I think, is why kids and many adults dislike this potentially delicious vegetable.  They’ve never eaten a good spear, cooked well.

My farmer friend informed me that the best asparagus is bright, healthy green, as thick as your thumb, with closed, dry tips.  Those restaurants that serve and grocers that sell those infuriating twigs are pulling the compost over your eyes.   They’re not gourmet specimens, they’re lies.

Why don’t we see fatties in stores more often?

Because these are the vegetables that the farmers keep and eat themselves.  And when they feast, sometimes they cook them like this:

Roasted asparagus

Untitledroasted goose

2 pounds fat asparagus cleaned, with woody ends broken off

Juice of half lemon with zest set aside

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey

2 teaspoons mayonnaise

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan + more for sprinkling

Salt & pepper

Whisk together all the ingredients except asparagus and sprinkling cheese.  Pour the marinade over asparagus in shallow baking dish and let sit for one hour.

15 minutes before cooking, place a large baking sheet with cooling rack on it into oven and preheat to 450.  Place veg onto cooling rack in single layer.  Sprinkle with the rest of the Parmesan and bake for 15-20 minutes turning once, until lightly tender, but crisp.

Place cooked asparagus into serving vessel and sprinkle with pinch of large flaky salt and reserved lemon zest.  Serves 4-6.

Nope.

And oh yeah, about that goose in the title?   There’s no lurking fowl.  Here at Chez Matthews, it’s just what we call asparagus.

Thanks for your time.

Don’t hide your ‘shrooms under a bushel

I have no idea how I lucked out, but I did.

Normally chanterelle mushrooms sell for about thirty dollars a pound.  Consequently, I’ve never had the pleasure of their company in my kitchen.

But a while back I was in Whole Foods.  I don’t whether it was a mistake, there was a glut on the market, or it was a straight-up holiday miracle, but those puppies were selling for $4.99 a pound.  I filled a bag, and skipped all the way home.  The whole time I expected someone to grab me because there’d been some type of grievous mushroom error.

Nope, I made it back to Chez Matthews, chanterelles in hand.

I then pondered preparation.

Spinach salad: one of my favorite recipes with mushrooms.

We eat mushrooms a few times a week, in all kind of dishes.  But I didn’t want to dim their star power one bit.  It would be like having Aretha Franklin over only to ask her to sing “Happy Birthday”.

So they would not languish in gravy, or meatloaf, or soup.  I wanted my windfall to b.e the star.

About the same time I was in Lowes Foods and bought a bag of completely adorable cherubic red skinned potatoes.  They were literally the size of a shooter used in a game of marbles.  Actually they’re known as marble potatoes.

To celebrate these two delightful, earthy treasures, I decided to do a simple roasting.  This would keep them close to their natural state.  I wouldn’t try to manipulate the flavors either, but just bring out the very best of them that I could.

If you don’t happen to luck out and find some fresh chanterelles that you can afford without a second mortgage, any type of mushroom can be used.

Oven-roasted chanterelles and potatoes

roasted chanterelles

1 ½ pounds (approx) marble or grape-sized potatoes, washed, but left unpeeled

1 ¼ pounds (approx) chanterelles or other wild mushrooms, washed and cut into bite-sized pieces.

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 ½ teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

Place a large pan into oven and preheat to 450 degrees.

Place potatoes and mushrooms into a large bowl, and drizzle with oil.  Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.

When the pan and oven are up to temp, pour vegetables onto pan into one even layer.  Bake for about 30 minutes, or until potatoes are tender, and mushrooms are brown and crispy around the edges, stirring every 10 minutes.

Serves 4-6.

Although The Kid might strenuously disagree with this statement, I usually don’t like to lecture.  But in this case, I feel that I must make a point.

I’m not sure that we always remember how fortunate we are as Americans.  The quantity and quality of our choices with which to stock our pantries is almost obscene.  Within thirty minutes of my house there are probably fifty different places to shop for our dinner.  The only limits are money and imagination.

Even if I am cooking something as common and prosaic as hamburger, tomatoes or egg noodles, I feel the need to honor the food.  To treat each ingredient as lovingly and skillfully as I am able.  Not only am I paying basic respect to the cow, farmer, or noodle maker, the flavors that result will reflect the care I have taken.

Heavy sauces and complicated cooking procedures originally became popular to hide wonky, and even rancid food.

But because of the plethora of choices, and superlative quality the best thing we can do is to get out of our food’s way and let it shine.

Thanks for your time.