Thursday, November 03, 2005

Ode to baking

If presented with the opportunity, I will gladly give up sleep for the opportunity to bake. I know, you are all rolling your eyes going, 'that is why you go mental when you have kids -, not bake sweet tasty morsels and then eat them for breakfast and wonder why that baby fat (who am I kidding I've been carrying this gut around since my mid-teens) isn't budging.'

Still - yesterday saw me baking an old favourite (ie, been baking it since 1988) - a lemon sauce cake. Take one simple buttercake recipe, turned all lemon and limey with the addition of finely grated lemon (and lime) rind. Add a syrup of sugar and lemon juice, poured over the cake once it's cooked and voila - the perfect entree to breakfast (which was the health option of allbran, stewed apples and skim milk).

Monday, October 31, 2005

Monday's Fresh Asparagus Goes With Everything: Discuss.

As we settle into the season where fresh green shoots of asparagus are so abundant that you can even get them at Woollies, let alone a 'good' grocer or the markets, I have to ask the question: is there anything asparagus does not make better in spring?

Leaving out desserts (asparagus ice cream?) and other silliness (asparagus muesli bars?), consider please the following:

Salads: yes.
Stir fries: yes.
Curry: cautious yes.
Tarts, omelettes, char-grills, dips, soups, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes!

And it's soooo pretty. Bright, bright green on the outside and pure white on the inside and just a blush of purple on the tip. Sigh.

Maybe I love the fresh so much because, growing up, I understood asparagus to be khaki in colour, mushy to the mouth, requiring drainage before use and always, always to be obtained from the inside of a tin can.

In fact, the only method of using asparagus that I was aware of before my 20s was to slide its long drained lengths carefully from the tin and into an oval dish, ready to be speared and added to one's salad plate along with the tinned pineapple, canned beetroot and carefully quartered tomatoes.

Sometimes there were little dill pickles too.

None of it was too bad, because we didn't know better, but none of it compares with the glorious spring of 2005 and its particularly fine crop of juicy, crunchy, sweet, colourful, FRESH asparagus!

Cheat's Monday night dinner for two weary adults.
Why is it that Monday can be the most tiring night of the week?

1 sheet puff pastry (that's the cheating part done)
A little milk
Fresh ricotta cheese
Tomatoes of any kind but I prefer semi-dried (if fresh, remove a lot of seeds so not too mushy)
1 bunch of fresh, thin asparagus spears
Fresh herbs, thyme is excellent with this.
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Pre-heat oven to about 180 degrees C.

  1. Cut the sheet of pastry in half. You can also trim each half and stack the trimmed edges around each piece to build up a 'puffed' border.
  2. Give a quick brush of milk to the outer edges, just for shine.
  3. Spread ricotta over the base, not too thick or thin
  4. Scatter a few tomato pieces over the ricotta
  5. Prep the asparagus by holding each spear toward the end and bending until it snaps - see how easy that was? No scraping or peeling required as it snaps at the point where any woodiness ends.
  6. Lay a few spears on each pastry base - a Sydney bunch of fresh thin asparagus usually has about 8-10 spears. If you have to settle for thick ones, slice them in half lengthwise so they cook faster.
  7. Top with fresh thyme or other herbs (basil is good too, as are finely chopped rosemary, italian parsley, chives or oregano - also, the herbs can be mixed with the ricotta beforehand).
  8. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, grind some fresh salt and pepper over the top.
  9. Bake 'til pastry is cooked and ricotta is starting to show golden brown spots.

DON'T overcook it - better to have a slightly soggy pastry base than overcooked, dried-up, tasteless asparagus!

Cut each Fresh Asparagus Tart (for this is what you have made) in half again and artistically tilt them across each other on a plate with a very simple bit of green something. eat with fingers and forks in front of your favourite Monday night tv...

Best addition to this dish: a couple of slices of prosciutto draped across each piece will add some carnivorous joy.