Retro recipes: Asparagus — the ‘choicest of all spring vegetables’
Asparagus a la Russe and Asparagus Casserole
The first issue of The Jewish Chronicle featured a new column called “What Morsels These Foods Be,” by Mildred Grossberg Bellin, identified as the Chronicle/JTA Food Editor. That column is reprinted here.
Legend has it that when Louis XV was King of France, he invented, and with his own hands, prepared for Madame du Barry an omelet adorned with asparagus.
This may be fact or fiction, but it is true that since ancient days our ancestors throughout Europe have considered asparagus a regal dish, the choicest of all spring vegetables.
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The very names given to many recipes show how widespread is its use, and recall favorite methods of preparation in different continental countries.
From Russia comes Asparagus a la Russe, rich with sour cream and toasted almonds; Asparagus Polonaise includes minced egg yolks, parsley, and the buttered crumbs so beloved in Poland; Flemish style Asparagus is served with melted butter, parsley, and quartered hard-cooked eggs. And so it goes.
To prepare asparagus for cooking , first wash it thoroughly. Break the stalks at the point where they snap easily. This removes the tough lower ends which may be used in soup stock. Trim off the scales and tie the tender stalks in bunches of six. Place upright in a tall, narrow saucepan, add water just to the tips, and cover the pan. Cook about 18 minutes, or until the stalks are tender but not wilted.
A speedy way of preparation, known as the California method, is particularly suited to those dishes which use cut-up asparagus, such as the main dish casserole described below. Wash and snap the stalks as usual. Cut off the tips, then cut the tender stalks in thin slices, at as sharp an angle as possible.
Place cut pieces and tips in a frying basket, and plunge this into rapidly boiling water. Bring to a boil once more, then cook three or four minutes, until the asparagus is tender crisp. Remove the basket from the water and drain.
Asparagus a la Russe
2 teaspoons butter
2 teaspoons grated onion
1 tablespoon white vinegar
¾ cup dairy sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb. cooked fresh, or 10 oz. cooked frozen asparagus
¼ cup chopped, blanched almonds
3 tablespoons fine, dry bread crumbs
In a small saucepan, melt the butter, add the onion, and cook slowly until the onion is soft but not browned. Add the vinegar and cook over medium heat three minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the sour cream, salt and pepper.
Arrange the asparagus in a single layer in a well-buttered shallow baking dish which can be brought to the table. Pour the sour cream sauce evenly over the asparagus, and sprinkle the almonds and bread crumbs evenly over the sauce. Bake at 350 F until hot, about 15 minutes. Serve in the same dish. This amount makes three or four portions.
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups milk
¾ cup grated American cheese
1 lb. fresh or 10 oz. frozen asparagus, cooked California method
½ cup sliced, stuffed olives
4 hard-cooked eggs, sliced
½ cup fine, dry bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a saucepan, stir in the flour, and cook and stir until the mixture bubbles. Remove from the heat, and gradually stir in the milk. Return to the heat, and cook and stir until smooth and thickened. Gently combine with the cheese, asparagus, olives, salt and pepper.
Place half this mixture in a buttered 1 1/2-quart casserole, cover with a layer of half the eggs, and sprinkle half the bread crumbs evenly over the eggs. Repeat. Bake, uncovered, at 350 F about 20 minutes. PJC