Sunday, May 23, 2010

Spring joy!

What grows together goes together. Asparagus season is May - June. Rush!

April/May is also the time of the new potato. Most famously the jersey royal but in fact there are many varieties, some of which are just extraordinarily wonderful to eat. Till I came to live in England I never knew how brilliantly potatoes grow here - and such a choice! They smell richly and delightfully of 'essence of potato' while they cook and then offer brilliant flavour and textures, running the whole gamut of ultra smooth wax to floury clouds - and everything in between.

The early varieties around at the moment are such a perfect match to our recently arrived and very welcome spring. Delicately flavoured flesh cooks best in water, either boiled or steamed. For me steaming is best, maintaining the lovely texture without diluting the taste one iota.

There's lots of tasty asparagus around - another veg the British do so very well - and it's early enough in the season for it to still be the most complete treat when it is cooked fast and simple. I had a big fat bunch from the market, plenty of new potatoes, and pea shoots in the garden, grown for the purpose of being served up as pea shoots, the ones intended for actually producing peas being entirely separate.

A perfect plate of food for Saturday night, needing only something to tie it all together, something delicate and special as the individual elements. What could fit the bill better than hollandaise? I have never made this brilliant sauce but am unfailingly seduced by it whenever I eat it. With such a delightful array of ingredients before me, the time had come to try this one at home!

Make the sauce first - this is a cheat version from the sainted Delia which was very good, though the real thing is marginally better, albeit far more temperamental and likely to split. Thought I'd try this one first to get a little confidence, and attempt the genuine article next time.

Delia's Foaming Hollandaise Sauce
2 large eggs, separated
1 dessertspoon lemon juice
1 dessertspoon white wine vinegar
110g salted butter
Salt and pepper

Begin by placing the egg yolks in a food processor or blender together with some salt, switch on and blend them thoroughly.

In a small saucepan heat the lemon juice and vinegar till the mixture simmers, then switch the processor on again and pour the hot liquid on to the egg yolks in a steady stream.

Switch off, then in the same saucepan melt the butter – not too fiercely: it mustn't brown. When it is liquid and foaming, switch on the processor once more and pour in the butter, again in a steady, thin stream, until it is all incorporated and the sauce has thickened.

Next, in a small bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and then fold the sauce, a tablespoon at a time, into the egg whites and taste to check the seasoning. When you've done that, it's ready to serve or it can be left till later.

Dinner from here is easy peasy.

Scrub about half a kilo of new potatoes but don't peel them. All the vitamin C, and more importantly most of the flavour is in the couple of millimetres of flesh under the skin, so be a shame to lose it. Season then steam them for 15 minutes, either in a steam oven or over a pan of simmering water.

Snap the stems of a bunch of asparagus at the point where they naturally break. Either use the bottom section to make a stock or discard. Season the remaining spears then add them to the oven or steamer and steam for 3-4 minutes, depending on thickness.

Rinse the pea shoots taken straight from the garden or bought at the market.

Arrange all the elements attractively on a plate, drizzle with hollandaise.

You need nothing more than crusty bread and a deliciously chilled white wine.

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