Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ignoring my own advice: the wages of stubbornness

Earlier this month, in The Washington Post’s “Cooking Off the Cuff,” I wrote about a nice way of cooking potatoes – here. In that posting I warned, “I don’t recommend doing this with potatoes that are less firm than my Russian bananas [fingerlings]. Something like a russet potato cut into chunks would too readily fall apart, not that it wouldn’t taste good.”

Well, a couple of nights ago I ignored my own sage advice and took a chance: I used russets for what could have been a nice variation on that dish. I’d been to the farmers’ market and bought some of that charming spring garlic whose pearly white cloves have not yet formed the papery skins that separate them in the mature heads. I thought it would be lovely quartered and butter-glazed along with potatoes.

Those firm-fleshed fingerlings were no longer available, and I stubbornly went forward with the plan using cut-up russets from the supermarket, to which I added the garlic heads, quartered, and then cooked with chicken stock, butter and rosemary.

As I’d known perfectly well, the potatoes couldn’t stand up to this treatment; they were just too fragile by the time they were tender. So I took a fork and mashed everything up, coarsely. It looked like hell, but tasted fine. I can’t say I was disappointed, because I knew just what was going to happen. But I felt silly for having hoped, even for a moment, that my original advice had been over-cautious.

Here’s what I ought to have done: I should have glazed the garlic separately, then added it to potatoes I’d cooked in a different way.

Next time, perhaps I’ll pay attention to my own warnings.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Another asparagus season, another asparagus pizza

At some point each spring, Jackie and I have asparagus pizza, most often with ricotta. Here’s an example from a couple of years ago. That one used little lengths of asparagus strewn over a buffalo-milk ricotta mixture.

Tonight – in mid-April, no less, very early for local asparagus – I did it differently: having used the top third of my asparagus stalks for another dish, which you’ll soon read about in The Washington Post’s “Cooking Off the Cuff,” I briefly boiled, then pureed, the other two thirds (barring a few tough and woody segments). Seasoned with salt and pepper, spread over pizza dough and drizzled with olive oil, this was baked for five minutes at 500 degrees F (260 C), then was topped with blobs of well drained sheep’s milk ricotta mixed with some grated pecorino, salt and pepper. The pizza went back into the oven and cooked for another six or seven minutes. If you have a real pizza oven, you’ll cut the 11- or 12-minute cooking time by two thirds, no doubt.

This worked very well: the asparagus puree was moist enough that it did not dry out during baking, and it made a more pizza-like dish than the scattering of asparagus tips had in my earlier version. And fluffy ricotta is a great topping, so long as you remember to season it well.

Yet another good way to use the rest of your asparagus (apart from just eating it, of course).