Instead of beginning with the topic, and veering off sideways, I begin this post, up front, with the digression. I feel it coming on, and I'm pretty sure it is both TOO BIG and unavoidable. The digression topic for today is unipurpose equipment in general, and asparagus peelers in particular. If you can't bear it, that is more than understandable, and you can skip this part and head on down to the recipe, which is adapted from Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of Southwest France.
Believe it or not,I actually have a position in principle on this issue (pompous enough?) which is: It is most practical, aesthetically pleasing, and soundest practice to have as little kitchen equipment as possible, of the best possible quality. In addition to leaving you with more money to spend on such useful items as actual food, it leaves you more room to cook, and a prettier kitchen.
I am so far from living this ideal that I am totally unable to publicly face up to the state of things, in this respect, in my own kitchen. We'll skip that. Still, I have sometimes managed to avoid the purchase of completely unipurpose items. I would argue that even my dopey chinois and copper jam pot have multiple functions and see a lot of use.
A recent visit to the Traveler's Lunchbox revealed how resistence to the purchase of expensive specialty cookware, combined with a creative imagination, can lead to clever innovations. Check it out. It is probably not a coincidence that the adapted recipe in Melissa's post is a Paula Wolfert item. I just love to read PW's stuff, as you may have noticed. She is such an intensive researcher, and her committment to authenticity allows us to sample very foreign, otherwise inaccessible dishes in what is in most cases, probably as close to exact reproduction as imaginable.
And therein lies the conflicting force. As a home cook, I don't have a personal committment to serving exact reproductions of the foods of other cultures, per se. But I want to know about them, and I want to try the real thing, and know what its supposed to taste and look and smell and feel like, before I mess with it for my own purposes. It's just so much fun, and PW is a principal aider-and-abeter. Fact is, sometimes, to get it right, you do need some special equipment. Too bad I don't have access to a well-funded test kitchen, or the funds to travel on whim, but that's life. I do realize that I am lucky to have a medium sized, semi-acceptible apartment kitchen, and, indeed, a roof over my head . Ack, am I entirely unable to shut up? Well, yes.
In any event, Ms. Wolfert has addressed the asparagus peeler issue, in another section of TCOSWF, persuasively arguing in favor of peeling asparagus, rather than wasting some, as happens when we just snap off several inches of the tougher bottom bits. She includes a recipe using the peelings (!)- Asparagus with Asparagus Sauce. To top it off, she even provides instructions on how to make your own asparagus peeler from a thin bladed knife and a 15" length of 16 gauge wire- in case you don't want to spend for a commercial one. Whew. As we used to say in days gone by, she blows my mind.
The thing is, as I understand it , that a regular vegetable peeler (to date my solution), is non-ideal, because due to the tapering of the asparagus spears, you need to remove more from the bottom than the top. Lucky for me, I have a bureau drawer full of saved ribbon and pretty papers and advance purchase gifts. From it I unearthed an as-new box with a present from long ago, saved in case of an unlikely re-gifting opportunity. That would be my asparagus peeler, which I thought was a silly space waster when I got it. It's in the kitchen now...and I think I was maybe wrong. Especially since it was, you know, free. I'm still not sure I'd buy one.
Finally, in what can only be described as a digression from a digression, I feel compelled to mention that there is a multi-purpose, high quality item, within reach theoretically, that I cannot bring myself to buy, though I am convinced of its usefulness and value. That would be a heavy copper saute pan. I've craved one for years, but can't convince myself that it would be okay. Just too much money for a pan. Sigh.
I do believe that Paula Wolfert was right in suggesting that this dish be served as a separate course, so that the intense flavor can be fully appreciated. I think she had a starter in mind, but personally, I was quite happy to make a supper of an indecently large portion, with some toasted homemade bread alongside. I'm drinking some really nice Belgian beer here-to me, wine tastes kind of weird with asparagus.
Obviously, this is not local (February in Pennsylvania) asparagus, but it was on sale, and looked very fresh and pretty. It called my name, and jumped into the shopping cart. I couldn't resist . I have just paid my deposit for next summer's CSA farmbox, so I consider this a celebration of the season to come. Or kind of a little magical ceremony to help the temperature rise, and melt the ice a bit.
So this is a very early, early spring item, made easier by the fact that dried, rather than fresh morels are preferred, the dried being even more intensely flavored. Yeah, they are expensive, but you don't need that many. They are certainly cheaper than the tinned truffles I tried this past weekend, and a damn sight more flavorful. You need, to serve 4 with something else or 2 for supper:
1 oz dried black morels
1 cup lukewarm water mixed with 1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1-2 tsps lemon juice
1/2 cup cream
1/4 cup unsalted chic broth
32 medium asparagus
1-2 tsps port
Soak the morels in the milky water for about 30 min.-until soft. saving the liquid, remove and rinse the morels. Pour the liquid through a coffee filter , and recombine with the morels. Simmer in a small pan until liquid is absorbed. Add butter, 1/4 cup water, lemon juice, salt and pepper and simmer aout 5 more minutes, until the liquid is almost all absorbed, and the morels are tender. Add half the cream and the stock, return to simmer, and remove from heat. Set aside. Best to wait at least a half hour here, as much of the sauce will be reabsorbed, to good effect.
Wash, trim and peel the asparagus. Cook in a skillet of boiling salted water, flat out, until just tender. Drain, and blot dry with paper towels. Put in serving dish, covered. Add the rest of the cream and the port to the morels, reheat to just simmer, correct seasoning, pour over asparagus, and serve. It's gorgeous. Please disregard the fact that the port makes it a funny color. It just doesn't matter. It is even yummy if you make it with no salt whatsoever for someone with a special diet. Just use a bit more lemon juice and pepper.