Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Fresh Takes on Old Friends – Day 3 in a Marathon of Sides
What’s cooking? Asparagus Flan

I’ve just realized that each of the first three dishes in this year’s Marathon of Sides requires a food processor, a tool that wasn’t even available when I started cooking.

I warned my husband early in our marriage that appliances were not acceptable as gifts. I’d been witness to the disappointment – maybe even rage – in my mother’s reaction to kitchen-related gifts, and figured I should head that likelihood off at the pass.

Then one day shortly after our first son was born, my darling man showed up with a gigantic box containing a microwave oven. I scoffed at him. (I did. Must have been the hormones.) I said it was impractical and almost useless and took up a ridiculous amount of counter space. “Whatever will we do with it?” I said.

Well,... I discovered that it could take the baby’s bottle from cold to just the right temperature in less than a minute. And when you’re-really-really-tired-and-you-have-to-be-at-work-the-next-day-but-the-kid-has-to-eat,-right?, that’s a lifesaver and worth whatever the damned machine cost.

A couple of years later, I called my Aunt Marcy for the recipe for cranberry relish she’d always made. She told me she was now using a great new machine – a food processor – that took all the work of grinding those oranges and cranberries down to mere minutes. So I had to get one. It took a bit to convince my hubby when I put it on my Christmas list, but there it was.

In more recent years, I’ve put any number of appliances in my letters to Santa. An electric ice cream maker, a KitchenAid stand mixer, and last year, a VitaMix, which the chef/author Michael Ruhlman recently called “the Maserati of kitchen equipment.” Is this what it means to eat your words?

So tomorrow’s post will not require any electrical appliance other than an oven. But for today, you really should try this asparagus dish. Even though asparagus is now available pretty much all year long, it still carries the caché of a “company” vegetable, and it’s endlessly adaptable. The flan seems particularly novel to me. I usually make it in individual custard dishes, but you could as easily bake it in an oven-proof casserole dish and allow guests to serve themselves. In either case, you will be carried away by the marvelous custard texture, firm but creamy with melt-in-your-mouth asparagus flavor. I’ve served it often at dinner parties, and it always delivers.

Kitchen Goddess note: The recipe calls for 2 pounds of asparagus, but it works best if you have 2 pounds of the veggies to work with – i.e., without the woody ends. So I prefer to buy 3 pounds and use as much as I need to get to a working 2 pounds.

Asparagus Flan

Adapted from Gourmet magazine, April 1996

Serves 8.

2+ pounds asparagus (see note above), woody stems trimmed
3 tablespoons heavy cream
½  teaspoon dried tarragon, crumbled
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter well the sides and bottoms of eight 6-ounce soufflé dishes or custard cups. Line the bottoms of the dishes with rounds of wax paper or parchment, and butter the paper as well. (I find a glass that fits and use it to trace around.) Line a baking pan large enough to hold the dishes with a kitchen towel.

Cut the asparagus stalks into 1-inch pieces, saving the final 2 inches of the tips. Cut the tips in half lengthwise, unless they're very thin, in which case you can use them as is. In a steamer rack set over boiling water, steam the asparagus tips, covered, until crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Transfer the tips to a colander or large sieve and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Drain the tips well and lay them out on paper towels on a rack to dry.

Steam the asparagus stalks, covered, until tender but still bright green, about 8 minutes. Transfer the stalks to paper towels on a rack and pat dry. In a blender or food processor, purée the stalks with the cream, tarragon, cheese, salt, and 3 tablespoons of the butter until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until combined and add the asparagus purée in a stream, whisking until smooth.

Divide the mixture among the dishes and arrange them on the towel in the baking pan. Add enough hot water to the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the dishes and bake the flans in the lower third of the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted in the center of a flan comes out clean. Remove the dishes from the pan and let the flans cool on a rack for 5 minutes.

While you are waiting for the flans to cool, heat the asparagus tips in a small skillet with the remaining tablespoon of butter. To serve the flans, run a knife around the edges of the dishes and invert the flans onto plates. Top with asparagus tips.

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