People who know me would tell you that it's hard to tell which I like more: gardening or cooking. I'd say it depends on which I'm doing at the moment. Anyway, French cooking and French gardening go hand in hand. For me, cooking is an on-going adventure. Join me here on my culinary explorations, where I share with you both my old favorites as well as new inspirations. It's my fondest wish that these recipes serve as a springboard for your own new creations.
03/25/2008 Cocotte of white asparagus with parma ham and poached egg (Cocotte de pointes d'asperges blanches au jambon de Parme et à l'oeuf poché)
For 2 servings:
1 lb. white asparagus tips 1.5 oz parma or bayonne ham or coppa, cut into thin strips 1 T. butter 2 very fresh eggs Flaked sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Trim the ends of the asparagus. Use only the top 4 inches. Peel the stalks (white asparagus has a tough skin). Slice the tips lengthwise in half or even in thirds if very thick. Melt the butter in a heavy saute pan over medium heat. Add the ham and saute for several minutes until the edges are crisp (the time to accomplish this depends on the thickness of the ham).
Add the asparagus. Saute, stirring often, until the asparagus begins to color. Add a dash (1/4-1/3) cup spring water and cook, stirring, until juices are reduced and syrupy. Taste and correct the seasoning (the ham may have provided enough salt).
Meanwhile, poach the eggs in simmering, acidulated water for about 3 minutes, until the whites are just set.
Divide the asparagus into two heated mini-casseroles or ramequins. Top with the poached eggs. Sprinkle with flakes of sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve with plenty of crusty bread.
Variations: If you can't get white asparagus, use green. The important thing is that the asparagus be very fresh. Like sweet corn, old asparagus tastes of nothing. (Green asparagus doesn't need peeling.)
Instead of poaching the eggs, you can serve this dish with oeufs mollets--soft cooked eggs. Use eggs that are about a week old for this, to facilitate peeling. To prepare them, bring a pot of water to a gentle boil. Slip the eggs into the water and simmer 4 minutes. Plunge them into cold water for a minute, then delicately peel them. Place an oeuf mollet on top of each serving of hot asparagus, and gently slice the egg open lengthwise with the tip of a knife. Dust with salt and pepper. Serve instantly.
Note: This cozy bistro dish unites a no-fail triumvirate of ingredients: fresh asparagus, soft-cooked egg, and parma ham. An elegant first course or light lunch dish.