Warm Salad of Asparagus and New Potatoes
If you read my blog with any kind of regularity (that's you, Mom!), or if you only skim through and look at pictures for inspiration, you probably know that I lean toward vegetarian food quite often. What can I say, I love my vegetables. No really, I Love vegetables. Not always that crazy about meat, but veggies are welcome on my plate Any Time. So I was excited to receive a copy of Simon Hopkinson's new book 'The Vegetarian Option' to review. Simon Hopkinson of the Roast Chicken fame (hey! I made his chocolate tart once), voted 'most useful cookbook of all time' by a British food magazine (Waitrose's Food Illustrated, actually). I mean, the man is highly praised. And, perhaps because I'm not really a vegetarian, I've never really had a problem with non-vegetarians writing vegetarian cookbooks (how many times can I write 'vegetarian' in one sentence). I mean, the way I see it, if most people cut down on meat, that would actually make a bigger difference than a handful of people swearing it off altogether. Not a unique opinion, I realize.
So Hopkinson's new book is 'The Vegetarian Option' and really the title sums it up. It's full of great-looking ideas for veg food, but with, for example, the inclusion of a chicken stock, clearly written for someone more a tourist of vegetarianism than a resident. But that's cool. In fact, that sounds like me. A frequent visitor, but not quite willing to set up shop. So this is the recipe I've made so far and it was a very, very good potato salad. Not of the sloppy mayo kind (although I love those too) but a butter cream sauce anointing a mess of new potatoes and asparagus. Now this is a potato salad any farmers market asparagus would be psyched to get into.
I had to make a few changes to the recipe, something, I have a feeling, Mr. Hopkinson would not approve of. But I'm sorry, if you ask for things like chervil you run the risk of it not being available. So even if Hopkinson kind of reminded me of an uncle, a great uncle perhaps, who insists that his way is the best way, even if it's also the fussiest (and even if its true), I don't feel all that bad taking my own path in either case. You just have to smile, pat his hand, and say, thanks uncle Hopkinson. I'll do it your way.
Warm Salad of Asparagus & New Potatoes
Adopted from Simon Hopkinson's The Vegetarian Option
3/4 pound new potatoes, scrubbed well
2 large mind sprigs
1 star anise, a small one
A knob of butter
1 bunch of asparagus, woody ends trimmed, peeled if you're down for it (I never am)
2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled
for the butter sauce
Juice of 1 small lemon
Pinch of sugar
5 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
White pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped chives
Bring a pot of water that can comfortably hold all of the potatoes to a simmer. Add the potatoes, as well as the mint and the star anise and simmer until the potatoes are tender. Keep six tablespoons of the potato cooking water aside, then drain the potatoes. Return the potatoes to the pan and stir with a knob of butter. Cover to keep them warm.
For the sauce, take another saucepan and add the 6 tablespoons of potato cooking water along with the pinch of sugar and the lemon juice. You might want to be a little judicious with the lemon juice, don't go crazy. Start with less rather than more. Simmer this mixture until it reduces by half. Now begin adding the butter, one little chunk at a time, whisking or stirring until incorporated. The heat should be very low while you do this. Season with pepper, remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
At this point, Hopkinson wants you to peel the asparagus tips and toss away the stalks, but what the heck, I never ever do stuff like that. I'm sorry, I love my asparagus, and I intend to eat the whole thing. So you can do like I did, which was to shop the asparagus and throw it in like that. So fill a pan with water, salt it well, and bring it to a boil. Add the asparagus and boil for just a couple of minutes, until still slightly crunchy and bright green. Drain and run them under cold water to stop them from further cooking (blanch them, in other words).
Slice the warm potatoes in half, and add them, along with the asparagus, to the butter sauce. Fold the vegetables into the sauce along with the chives until everything is evenly coated. To serve, spoon the salad out onto plates and season with a little salt. Chop the egg, and sprinkle it over the top.
*Note: So as I mentioned, Hopkinson calls for a handful of chervil sprigs to be sprinkled over the top of the salad before serving. If you find them, by all means use them. He says their faint anise flavor works every well with the salad. I didn't find chervil, however, and that's why I added the small star anise to the potato cooking water. You could taste its faint flavor, and it just might be a little trick I'll use again in the future.