Springing Green With “All Things Asparagus” and Sweet Spring Dream Cookies

“I look forward to the spring vegetables because the season is so short. Mushrooms, edible foraged herbs, wild leeks, early season asparagus.” – David Chang

“The first thing to look at is the tip of the spear or the bud. It should be tightly closed and erect, not open and droopy. The hue of green asparagus should be fresh, bright, and with no hint of yellow. White asparagus should be a clear, even, creamy color. The stalk should feel firm and the overall look should be dewy. Although asparagus, like nearly everything else, is now marketed through most of the year, it is freshest in the spring, from April to early June.” – Marcella Hazan, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (1992)

Spring, like life, is short.

Celebrate the sprouting of Spring with the recipes below for “All Things Asparagus”, the ultimate Spring vegetable.

For something sweet, enjoy a recipe for Drömmar Swedish “dream” cookies.

asparagus recipes

Fried Asparagus or “Asparagi fritti” (taken from The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan, 1973)

Ingredients:
12 spears of crisp, fresh asparagus
2-4 tbsp. butter
1 egg, well beaten
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
A few squeezes of fresh lemon juice

Instructions:
Snap off the bottoms of the stems of the asparagus, leaving a stalk about 4 to 5 inches long, including the tips. Remove all the tiny leaves below the tips and wash the asparagus thoroughly in cold water. Pat dry with a towel.

Heat the butter in a skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted, dip the asparagus in the beaten egg, roll it in the bread crumbs, and slide it into the skillet, doing just a few stalks at a time so that they are not crowded in the pan. Spring with salt and pepper and a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice. When the asparagus has formed a crust on one side, turn it and when it has formed a crust on the other side, transfer with a slotted spatula to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle lightly with salt and serve immediately. Serve immediately and Bon Appetito!

Cream of Asparagus Soup (taken from The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins, 1982)

Ingredients:
4 cups chopped yellow onions
8 tbsp. sweet butter
2 quarts Chicken Stock
2 pounds asparagus
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cream of asparagus soup recipe

Instructions:
Melt butter in a large pot and simmer the onions until very soft and golden, about 15-20 minutes, stirring often.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, trim the tips from the asparagus and reserve.  Cut about 1 inch from the butt ends of the asparagus spears; remove the rough woody ends.  Chop spears into 1/2-inch pieces and drop into the boiling chicken stock, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 45 minutes, or until asparagus is very soft.

Purée soup in blender and return the puree to the pot, add the reserved asparagus tips, and simmer until they are tender but still firm, 5 – 10 minutes.  Stir in cream and season with salt and pepper.

Asparagus En Croute (taken from The Silver Palate Cookbook)

Ingredients:
12 slices good quality white sandwich bread
1/2 pound Jarlsberg or other Swiss-type cheese
1/2 cup prepared Dijon-style mustard
12 asparagus spears, cooked
4 tbsp. melted sweet butter

Instructions:
Roll slices of bread as thin as possible with a rolling pin; trim crusts. You will have pieces of bread 3-3 & 1/2 inches square.

Lay squares out on a work surface and cover with a damp towel for 10 minutes.

Cut cheese into fingers, more or less the size of the asparagus spears.

Spread each bread square evenly with mustard. Lay an asparagus spear and a strip of cheese on each bread square and roll up. Place seam side down on a buttered baking sheet.

Brush rolls with melted butter. Bake in the upper third of a 450 degree F oven for 10 minutes, or until brown and bubbling. Serve immediately.

Asparagus Champagne Risotto (adapted from Everyday Pasta by Giada De Laurentiis, 2007)

Ingredients:
3 cups chicken broth
12 asparagus spears, cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
3/4 cup Arborio rice or medium-grain rice
3/4 cup champagne
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:
In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the broth. Blanch the asparagus in the chicken broth for 2 minutes. Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon. Set the asparagus aside and keep the chicken broth at a low simmer.

In another medium saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the shallot and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the Arborio rice and stir to coat in the butter. Continue toasting the rice, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes more. Add the champagne and simmer until the champagne has almost evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the simmering broth and stir until almost completely absorbed by the rice, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition of broth to absorb before adding the next, until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes total. Remove from the heat.

Gently stir in the asparagus, the remaining tablespoon of butter, the Parmesan, salt, and pepper.

Drömmar (Dream Cookies) (taken from the Wall Street Journal, March 2016)

Ingredients:
7 tbsp. butter, room temperature
1/3 cup plus 1/2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 & 1/3 cups unbleached cake flour
1/2 tsp. baker’s ammonia (can substitute 1/2 tsp. baking powder plus 1/2 tsp. baking soda)
Salt

Instructions:
Beat butter, sugar, and vanilla on medium speed until light in color, about 5 minutes. Sift flour and baker’s ammonia into bowl. Beat again until just fully combined, about 30 seconds. Be careful not to over beat.

Shape dough into 20 balls and place them on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet or lightly greased sheet. Bake at 350 degree F until cookies puff and crisp but do not color, about 15 minutes. The cookies should have no, or very little, coloration and should crack slightly during cooking. Remove cookies from oven and let cool completely before eating.

Happy Sweet Spring Desserts

“Nothing is so beautiful as Spring…[w]hat is all this juice and all this joy? A strain of the earth’s SWEET being in the beginning…” – Gerard Manley Hopkins from the poem “Spring”

Spring dessert recipesNothing is more perfect than a slightly sweet, light, ethereal dessert after dining on a plateful of pasta at an old-world Italian restaurant on an early spring evening.

You could say that the Italian dessert “Panna Cotta” is like tasting a bit of spring itself in all of its lightness, sweetness and silky, creamy freshness. A simple pudding-like dessert, Panna Cotta (which literally means “cooked cream”) originated in Northern Italy, where “the earliest recipes mention simmering the cream with fish bones (the collagen would set the cream).”

Panna Cotta is referred to as the “purest of the Italian spoons desserts” and when achieving the proper consistency and texture, should be silky smooth and just firm enough to hold its shape when plated (quotes taken from here).

Below are three variations of Panna Cotta to experiment with, along with two other spring dessert recipes, one for Banana Cake and one for a Lemon Cake. Enjoy!

Panna Cotta (taken from Russ Parsons, Los Angeles Times Food Editor)

Ingredients:
2 tbsp. water
1 tbsp. powdered gelatin
Oil
2 & 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 & 1/2 cups whole milk
5 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Instructions:
Place water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Stir to distribute, and set aside to soften, 2-3 minutes.

Wipe the insides of 8 (one-half-cup) ramekins with a light coating of neutral oil and set aside. Half-fill a large bowl with ice and add enough water to make an ice bath and set aside.

In small saucepan, combine the cream, milk, sugar and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Remove from heat and whisk in the softened gelatin and the vanilla.

Set the saucepan in the ice bath (making sure the top of the saucepan is well above the surface of the water) and whisk until the mixture is lukewarm. Rub your fingers together – there should be no grit from undissolved sugar or gelatin.

Ladle mixture into the oiled ramekins and chill at least 4 hours or overnight.

About 10 minutes before serving run a thin-bladed knife around the inside of the ramekin. Dip the ramekin briefly in a bowl of hot tap water, and then carefully invert onto a serving plate.

Panna cotta recipes

Panna Cotta (adapted from blog.italian-connection.com)

Ingredients:
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
2 heaping tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/7 ounce of unflavored gelatin

Instructions:
Dissolve gelatin in 2 tablespoons water for 2-3 minutes. In medium saucepan heat cream, milk, and sugar and heat gently. Remove from heat and stir in the gelatin and the vanilla extract and stir until thoroughly combined and begins to thicken. Pour into custard cups or ramekins and chill for 3-6 hours.

Panna Cotta (taken from Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything)

Ingredients:
3 cups cream
1 package (1/4 ounce) unflavored gelatin
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar

Instructions:
Put 1 cup cream in a medium saucepan and sprinkle gelatin over it; let sit for 5 minutes. Turn heat to low and cook, stirring, until gelatin dissolves completely.

Add remaining cream and sugar to gelatin mixture and heat gently, just until sugar dissolves; add vanilla and then pour mixture into 4-6 small custard cups. Chill until set, about 4 hours.

Sunny Lemon Cake (adapted from Ann Romney, The Romney Family Table)

Ingredients for the Cake:
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 & 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. lemon juice
Finely grated zest of 1 – 2 lemons
4 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
1 cup buttermilk

Instructions:
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.  In a separate bowl, beat the butter on medium-high for 1 – 2 minutes, or until smooth.  Gradually add the sugar, beating until light and fluffy, about 3 – 5 minutes.  Add the vanilla and lemon oil or zest and continue to beat.  Add the eggs and yolks one at a time, beating well after eat addition and scraping the bowl frequently.  Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixture alternating with the buttermilk in 3 additions, beginning and ending with the flour.  Mix until the batter is smooth and well blended.

Spread batter into prepared pan and bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.  cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes and then remove from pan.  Drizzle warm cake with Lemon Glaze.

Ingredients for the Lemon Glaze:
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp. rum (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
Finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon

Instructions:
In a small bowl, combine the sugar, water, rum or vanilla extract, and lemon stirring until the sugar dissolves. Drizzle the warm cake with the glaze. Let cake cool completely before serving.

Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (taken from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook)

Ingredients for the Cake:
1 stick of butter, room temp.
1 & 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs room temp. to be separated
1 cup mashed banana (about 3 med-size banana)
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts

easy banana cake recipe

Instructions for the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 9×13 baking dish or two 9-inch round cake pans. Cream the butter and then add sugar and beat until smooth. Separate eggs placing egg whites in bowl to be beat.  Add egg yolks, mashed bananas and buttermilk to butter/sugar mixture and combine thoroughly. Beat egg white in separate bowl until stiff but moist and fold into mixture. Sprinkle chopped nuts on top of batter and gently fold in. Spread evenly in prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool.

Ingredients for the Frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temp.
4 tbsp. butter, room temp.
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted if lumpy
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Instructions for the Frosting:
Combine cream cheese and butter. Add 1 cup confectioners’ sugar at a time mixing thoroughly, and then stir in the vanilla. Spread on flat 9×13 cake or use to make a layer cake with the 9-inch pans.

See also more light, airy and sweet Spring recipes.