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.
04/05/2005 Tiny carrots and new asparagus with orange sauce (Asperges et carottes primeurs, sauce orange maltaise)
For 4 servings:
12 very fresh asparagus spears 24-40 young garden carrots with tops no bigger than your little finger in circumference 5-6 cups homemade chicken stock (unsalted) 2 Malta oranges, blood oranges, or other oranges 1/2 t. freshly ground coriander seed 2-4 T. unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces Salt and freshly ground white pepper A small bunch of chives A few sprigs of chervil (optional)
Bend the asparagus spears in your two hands, allowing them to snap just where they become tender. Discard the stubs.
Thinly peel the baby carrots, and whittle their green tops into a small green stub as if you were sharpening a pencil with the knife. The point is to leave a bit of the green tops in place in an elegant way.
Reduce the chicken stock to slightly less than 1 cup over high heat, skimming any foam or scum. If you have Malta oranges or blood oranges, finely grate 2 tsp. of peel. If using regular oranges, halve this quantity. Then squeeze their juice, measure out 1/2 cup, and drink the rest.
Heat some water to a boil, add a generous pinch of salt, and cook the asparagus and carrots separately until barely tender. They should still offer a little resistance to the point of a sharp knife. Drain, cover, and keep warm. Place 4 medium sized plates in the oven to warm.
Add the orange juice, coriander, and grated peel to the reduced stock. Heat gently. When just hot, swirl in the butter piece by piece. The lesser quantity makes a lighter sauce; the larger quantity a more velvety sauce. Whisk to emulsify thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. If the sauce tastes too acidic, add a pinch of sugar. If not sharp enough, add a few drops lemon juice.
Tie the carrots into bundles of 3 to 5, depending how many carrots you are using. You'll need 2 bundles for each serving. Arrange them with all their tops pointing in the same direction; tie a 'belt' of chive around their centers, trimming the ends of the chive neatly. Admire how pretty this looks.
Take out the warm plates and distribute equal pools of sauce in each. (Whisk the sauce just before to make sure it is well emulsified.) Arrange 3 asparagus spears in each pool, flanked by 2 carrot bundles. Sprinkle with chopped chervil if using. Serve immediately.
Note: This is a wonderfully light and springy first course which makes fanciful use of late winter oranges and early spring vegetables. The delicate flavors of the sauce perfectly complement the young vegetables. Use juicy, thin-skinned, fragrant Malta oranges if you can get them. Blood oranges will also work, making the sauce red. Regular oranges are fine too, but have a stronger taste than the delicate Maltas.