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Tag: tarragon

Asparagus Tortilla with Grilled Mountain Cheese and Tarragon

Asparagus Tortilla with Mountain Cheese and Tarragon

My first asparagus of the year found its way into my kitchen and I’m as excited as a kid on Easter morning. This is just the start, the beginning of the new season! I can’t help thinking of all the other delicious goods which are soon to follow: the first ramp leaves spreading their garlicky aroma in a bowl full of pesto, crunchy fava beans mixed with parmesan in a creamy risotto, juicy spring cucumber, so concentrated in flavour that some sour cream and dill is enough to throw a quick salad together and enjoy the purest and most simple pleasures of nature’s annual awakening. I don’t even want to imagine ripe tomatoes dripping juice, I’ve been missing them for so long and it’ll still be a little while before I can savour them. For now I’m just over the moon to have the pretty slim stalks of green asparagus back in my pan.

So two things were on my mind in the past few days which filled me with excitement in the kitchen: the first asparagus of 2015 and my brave decision to make a tortilla after I failed miserably at my first and last attempt more than 20 years ago. My potato omelette was burned on the outside and undone in the middle, a complete kitchen failure created at the beginning of my active culinary journey. Somehow it had an intimidating effect on me considering how long it took to give this dish a second chance. But now I felt ready to give it a go again, my asparagus and some fragrant tarragon at hand to vary this rich Spanish potato classic with some green freshness and a little grated mountain cheese (Swiss Appenzeller) to add its hearty flavours to the vegetables. It’s not as big a deal to get the potatoes right as I had imagined (or feared), the only trick is to find the right setting on your cooker. They should cook in the pan on medium heat while covered with a lid without turning black or mushy. It takes about 15 minutes and once they are done, you add some fried onions, eggs and asparagus and let the tortilla cook for a few minutes. I finish it off under the grill to melt the mountain cheese which created a smokey crust on the asparagus. It worked so easily, my tortilla kitchen trauma is finally solved!

Asparagus Tortilla with Mountain Cheese and Tarragon

 

Asparagus Tortilla with Mountain Cheese and Tarragon

 Asparagus Tortilla with Mountain Cheese and Tarragon

For 3-4 people you need

green asparagus, woody bottoms cut off, 400g / 14 ounces
medium sized waxy potatoes, peeled, 450g / 16 ounces
medium sized onion, cut in half and thinly sliced, 1
organic eggs 4
hard mountain cheese (like Appenzeller or Gruyère), grated, 60g / 2 ounces
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
olive oil
fresh tarragon, a small handful, to serve
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar, to serve

Blanch the asparagus in boiling salted water for 1 1/2 minutes or until just al dente. Rinse with cold water, drain and set aside.

Slice the potatoes very thinly with a cheese or mandoline slicer, spread them between kitchen paper and pat them dry.

In a heavy pan (ovenproof, about 25 cm / 10″), heat a splash of olive oil and cook the onions on medium heat for a few minutes until soft, take them out of the pan and set them aside. Put the pan back on the heat and add a generous splash of olive oil. Spread the potato slices in the pan, close with a lid and cook for about 12 minutes on medium heat. Check the potatoes with a fork after 5-7 minutes by lifting them a little from the side, mind that they don’t burn and adjust the temperature if necessary. After 12 minutes, carefully turn the potatoes with a spatula (like a pancake) and spread the onions on top, give them another 2 minutes. Whisk the eggs with 1 teaspoon of salt, pepper and nutmeg and pour over the potatoes, close with a lid and cook for 2 minutes. Arrange the asparagus on top of the eggs, close the lid again and cook for about 4 minutes or until the egg is set. Lay the grated cheese on top of the tortilla and put the pan under the grill for just a few minutes until the cheese starts to bubble. Sprinkle with tarragon and crushed black pepper before serving.

asparagustortilla3

 

Asparagus Tortilla with Mountain Cheese and Tarragon

 

Asparagus Tortilla with Mountain Cheese and Tarragon

 

Asparagus Tortilla with Mountain Cheese and Tarragon

A Field in the Forest, Beelitz and Asparagus Soup

Asparagus Soup with Tarragon

A couple weeks ago I had a conversation about asparagus with my aunt and uncle, we talked about the various tastes depending on the vegetable’s origin. The soil, the climate and weather have  such a big influence on these delicate stems. I’ve enjoyed great asparagus in my life, green and white, but we agreed that the best is from Beelitz, an area 50 km (30 miles) outside Berlin. I always wanted to visit to see the large fields covered in foil keeping them dark, to watch the harvest and buy my asparagus directly from one of the farmers.

It’s May, the seasonal peak for asparagus and there’s no time to wait any longer! A few days ago we got on a train heading South-West to search for the famous Beelitz asparagus fields. We took our bikes with us to explore some of the quiet and hidden corners of the countryside, the forest and the fields and I can say that we found what we were looking for, asparagus heaven!

Asparagus Soup with Tarragon

 

Asparagus Soup with Tarragon

We got off the train at a tiny station,  an old timber framed house which seemed abandoned for years. We noticed that we were the only travelers on the platform, we were happy about that and enjoyed the silence. When you live in the city the absence of noise is one of the biggest luxuries! The early afternoon sun felt just right, soft and warm, we jumped on our bikes, excited to start our trip.

Beelitz is a small town, it’s peaceful and pretty. Old brick houses line the narrow cobblestone streets, little trees along the pavements blossoming in bright pink, a perfect picture book scene. It didn’t take us long to leave the town behind us. The world in front of us turned into a glowing green, majestic trees with fleshy leaves, lilacs blooming at every corner spreading their sweet scent. The grass on the wide meadows looked fresh and juicy. We crossed a river and filled our lungs with the cleanest air we smelled in months! We turned into a tiny path and met an old man gathering grass for his rabbits. We chatted for a little while before we continued our drive along endless fields, on hidden alleys and through lonesome forest.

Asparagus Soup with Tarragon

 

Asparagus Soup with Tarragon

 

Asparagus Soup with Tarragon

After driving through a dark forest of pine and fir trees for about half an hour we noticed a sparkle in the distance. At that point we weren’t even thinking about asparagus anymore, we just enjoyed the peace and quiet, but there it was, right in front of us in the middle of hundreds of trees, an endless field of asparagus!

To keep the vegetables in the dark, they are covered with white foil which reflects the sun and creates a surreal, glittering scene, it felt like being on the moon! In the evening, on our way back to the train station we saw the pickers coming to harvest, creating dark shadows in front of a blinding white in the spotlight of the sinking sun. It was beautiful!

Behind the fields we spotted a farmer who offered thick and juicy white asparagus, the freshest I’ve ever bought. I filled my basket with the clean white stems knowing that I would turn a few of them into a delicious asparagus soup!

Asparagus Soup with Tarragon

Asparagus Soup

For 4 people you need

white asparagus, peeled, the bottoms cut off, 1kg / 2 pounds
a pinch of sugar
water used to cook the asparagus 900ml / 2 pints
heavy cream 100ml / 3.5 ounces
nutmeg, freshly ground
salt and black pepper
tarragon, around 30 leaves for the topping

In a large pot, bring lots of water to a boil, add a pinch of sugar and salt and cook the asparagus for 20 minutes. Keep the water, take the asparagus out with a slotted ladle and cut into 3cm / 1″ pieces. Set the heads aside and leave for the topping.

Bring 900ml / 2 pints of the water used to cook the asparagus to a boil and cook together with the cream on a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the asparagus and purée with a stick mixer or in a blender. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste and serve in deep bowls sprinkled with the asparagus’ heads and tarragon leaves.

Asparagus Soup with Tarragon

 

Asparagus Soup with Tarragon

 

Asparagus Soup with Tarragon

 

Asparagus Soup with Tarragon

 

Asparagus Soup with Tarragon

 

Asparagus Soup with Tarragon

Pork Fillet with a Grainy Dijon Mustard and Tarragon Crust

Pork with Dijon Mustard + Tarragon Crust

I don’t need meat on my table often, once a week is enough for me, but on some days my hunger needs more than just vegetables. This week I got hooked on a nice piece of pork fillet which when properly prepared is uncomplicated, juicy and also great as a leftover meal. I bought a whole 600g (1.5 pounds) of fillet knowing that it would be a bit much for the two of us but we were happy to enjoy it the next day, cold cuts at its best!

Pork fillets are always delicious in combination with herbs, with sage for example, you could wrap the meat in prosciutto similar to a Saltimbocca alla Romana but I felt like mustard, a spicy, grainy mustard crust enhanced with the flavours of tarragon. When I make a crust, I like a thick, slightly crunchy cover on the meat, concentrated and strong. The classic Dijon mustard with its fine spiciness would work as well but the rougher, grainy one makes a better crust. Dijon mustard’s history goes back to 1856, when Jean Naigeon of Dijon first substituted verjuice (the acidic juice of unripe grapes) for the normal vinegar.

Sometimes, meat dishes are quicker and easier to prepare than vegetarian meals, this is one of them. I mixed the ingredients for the crust in a blender, fried the meat and baked everything in the oven for just 15 minutes. After frying the meat, I deglazed what was left in the pan with vermouth which turned into a thick juice. The meat didn’t really need a sauce but it was nice to dip it into this concentrated syrup.

Pork with Dijon Mustard + Tarragon Crust

Pork Fillet with Mustard and Tarragon Crust

For 4 people you need

pork fillet, one piece of  600g / 21 ounces
butter 40g / 1.5 ounces
bread crumbs 20g / 3/4 ounce
whole-grain Dijon mustard 3 heaped tablespoons
garlic, crushed, 1 clove
tarragon, chopped, 14 leaves
salt and pepper
olive oil for frying
vermouth, 150ml / 5 ounces

Set the oven to 200°C / 390°F (top/ bottom heat).

Mix the butter, bread crumbs, mustard, garlic and  tarragon in a blender and season with salt and pepper. Roll out the paste between 2 layers of cling film, it should have roughly the shape as the pork fillet.

In a large heavy pan, heat a splash of olive oil on high temperature and fry the meat seasoned with salt and pepper for a few minutes until golden brown on all sides. Take the meat out of the pan and deglaze the bits and pieces left in the pan with the vermouth. Let it cook for 30 seconds, season with salt and pepper and take off the heat.

Put the meat into a baking dish, cover with the mustard butter paste and press it softly onto the meat. Bake in the oven for 12 minutes, switch to grill function and let the crust turn brown and crisp for 3 minutes.

Serve the meat in thick slices with a few drops of the thick concentrated vermouth sauce.

Pork with Dijon Mustard + Tarragon Crust

 

Pork with Dijon Mustard + Tarragon Crust

 

Pork with Dijon Mustard + Tarragon Crust

A Fried Egg and Bacon Sandwich with Tarragon and Parsley

Tarragon + Parsley Fried Egg + Bacon Sandwich

One morning we decided to “decorate” our fried eggs with fresh herbs and it became a morning classic in our kitchen. It looks really pretty and tastes even better. The variations are endless and change all the time depending on the herbs growing in our terracotta pots, and there are plenty at the moment! Usually the small plants don’t survive the cold winter, the roots aren’t really as protected as they should be. I tried to keep the herbs inside on my kitchen window sill during the cold season but they tend to suffer from bugs and mildew, so I gave up. I wish them the best of luck, protect them with some leaves and hope for the best. To my surprise, a fragile, skinny tarragon plant, an offshoot which I dug out of my mother’s herb garden managed to bear the cold and frost and it’s shining again in its recaptured bloom and beauty. I love its strong aroma which reminds me a bit of aniseed.

For my fried eggs, I picked a few of the tarragon’s long leaves, about 6 slim ones for each egg, and some crunchy parsley, the Italian one with big flat leaves. The combination works well, I just went easy on the parsley, 2-3 leaves per egg were enough as it can easily be too overpowering. I fried the eggs in a little butter on medium heat in a non-stick pan, put the herbs gently on top of the liquid egg whites and yolks and covered the pan with a big lid until the whites turned solid. I kept the egg yolk soft as I wanted it to soak into the hearty bread when I cut it open. To finish off my sandwich, I fried 3 slices of bacon golden brown and crisp and put a few slices of my dark spelt bread into the pan as well. When you roast the bread in the fatty juices, just in the end for a minute or two, it becomes a bit crunchy and is infused with the meaty aroma. I didn’t add any salt, just crushed black pepper, thanks to the strong bacon!

Tarragon + Parsley Fried Egg + Bacon Sandwich

 

Tarragon + Parsley Fried Egg + Bacon Sandwich

 

Tarragon + Parsley Fried Egg + Bacon Sandwich

 

Tarragon + Parsley Fried Egg + Bacon Sandwich

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