Asparagus, Parmesan Custard and Anchovy Croutons

Asparagus Parmesan Custard Anchovy Croutons

And so once again it’s asparagus season. That’s very much a good thing as far as I’m concerned, being a Worcestershire lad. For a few fleeting months, we can get these quality shoots before we’re back to the pencil thick imports from God knows where. I try and avoid these.

They’re brilliantly adaptable, whether steamed, grilled, roasted, thinly sliced in a salad etc etc. Best of all it’s very good for you, being packed with antioxidants and vitamins B & K apparently.

*closes wikipedia*

The only downside of course, and I know I putting myself out there, but I’m one of those people with the apparent genetic predisposition to notice the, err, after-affects. I’ll say no more it’s a food blog after all 😉

Of course asparagus is classically paired with egg and/or hollandaise, and this recipe isn’t a million miles away in terms of ingredients.

The Parmesan custard, though prepared differently, is based on a starter I used to like in an Italian recipe. That was thick like crème pâtissière, but this has been prepared thinner, more like a crème anglaise. Or custard as we call it here. I finished it off with some anchovy infused croutons.

The asparagus was prepared my favourite way – chargrilled. But then I prefer most things chargrilled.

Massive umami flavours result of course and although this would make a nice lunch or starter by itself, I added some roast chicken and a little side salad to make it a bit more substantial for dinner.

Serves 2

For the asparagus

  • 8 lovely large, fresh asparagus spears!
  • 1 lug of garlic oil
  • Salt and pepper

For the parmesan custard

  • 350ml whole milk – cold or room temperature (if you have time – infused with 1 tbsp black peppers and 1 bay leaf  – cooled)
  • 4 tbsp grated Parmesan
  • 2 egg yolks (room temp)
  • Salt to taste

For the anchovy croutons

  • 1 large or 2 small slices of stale bread – cubed
  • 3-4 anchovy filets
  • 3 tbsp olive oil

You don’t have to do this , skip to the end if you prefer! Start with the milk. Heat it in a pan to a simmer with the bay leaf and peppercorns to infuse the flavour. Take off the heat, strain and leave to cool in a bowl.

For the asparagus: drizzle and roll in the garlic oil. Season well with salt and pepper.

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Get an iron griddle screaming hot and char them all over until cooked. Press them and they’ll give a little when done, but not overdone.

Remove and keep warm.

At the same time, heat the oil in a smallish pan and fry the anchovy fillet until they dissolve into the oil. Fry the bread in the delicious oil until brown and crispy. Take off the heat and keep warm

Finally, do the parmesan custard – it needs your attention so do it last. Pour the milk (infused or not) into the a cold milk pan and add the egg yolks and Parmesan. Whisk thoroughly.  On your smallest hob, heat gently stirring continuously until it’s thickened. When stirring, make sure you get into the edges of the pan or it’ll curdle the egg – I use a silicon spatular. Reduce until it becomes a nice thick sauce. Taste and season.

Serve the Parmesan custard over the asparagus with the croutons on top and with the roasted chicken/side salad if you like.

Asparagus Parmesan Custard

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Linguine with Peas Pancetta and Pangriata

It dawned on me today that despite it being my favourite cuisine out there, I’ve yet to post anything to do with Italian food. Mama mia…..

I think it may be to do with the fact that Italian food, particularly pasta, has become almost the ‘norm’ in this house and therefore I didn’t think it worthy of broadcasting to you all. A schoolboy error!

I love a good tomato sauce as much as the next frustrated chef, but I prefer pasta like this, simply but robustly flavoured. I’ve combined some pancetta cubes with sweet garden peas, chilli, lemon, fresh parsley and a background umami boost of anchovy fillets. You can leave the latter out of course as I admit they are a bit of a love me/hate me ingredient.

Pangriata is another example of the Italians making something delicious from something ordinary. Seemingly a replacement for the more expensive Parmesan (or is that an urban myth?), I prefer it in many ways for the crunchy texture. It can be tweaked and flavoured to suit the dish, but here I made it simply using a garlic infused oil and parsley. If you don’t have any, regular olive oil with finely chopped garlic and your choice of herbs is the default route for making this.

The recipes here is for two people, but can be easily multiplied up for more servings.

Serves 2. Prep and cooking time – 20 minutes.

Ingredients:

  • 150g linguine
  • 2 tbsp cooking olive oil
  • Extra virgin olive oil (to finish)
  • 100g frozen peas
  • 100g diced pancetta (or lardons/chopped streak bacon)
  • 4 anchovy fillets
  • small glass of white wine of white wine (optional)
  • 1 tsp flaked dried chilli
  • Zest of a lemon
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • Ground black pepper to serve if preferred.
  • Salt

For the pangriata (depending on how much you prefer)

  • 1- 2 handfuls of roughly chopped breadcrumbs
  • 1 – 2 tbsp Garlic infused rapeseed oil (or the same amount of oil fried with a finely chopped garlic clove)
  • Chopped parsley or thyme
  • sea salt

Method:

Get all the ingredients ready, including any chopping slicing or dicing you need to do.

Fill and boil the kettle.

I make the pangriata near the end, with a bit of multi-tasking, but if you prefer to do one thing at a time, make the pangriata first: simply fry off the breadcrumbs in the garlic oil, a good pinch of salt and some chopped parsley or thyme. It won’t take long to be golden and crispy. Remove from the pan and set aside (preferably somewhere warm).

Next, add about a tbsp of salt to a large pot and pour over the freshly boiled water. Get the heat on until it starts to boil.

Put the peas in the pan and simmer until warmed through for no more than a minute or two, they’ll be cooked further later. Remove with a slotted spoon and keep to one side in a bowl. You can do this in a separate pan of course, but it saves on washing up!

Turn the heat up to get the water to a fast boil and add the pasta. It will take about 11 minutes so time to get moving with the rest.

In the same frying pan you made the pangriara, add 1 tsbp of regular olive oil (not the good stuff, it’s a waste as you won’t taste it) and fry the pancetta, flaked chilli and garlic briskly until well coloured – about 2 minutes – on a high heat. Add the anchovies and mix thoroughly, they will dissolve into the pancetta.

Add the white wine and peas and reduce for a minute or two.

Add a few tablespoons of the pasta water to the sauce to loosen it up. Taste and add more seasoning if needed but it shouldn’t (pancetta and anchovies should be more than enough). Stir in the chopped parsley and lemon zest.

Check the pasta which should be pretty much ‘al dente’ by now and ready to go. Drain, reserving a little of the pasta water, and put back in the pan. Stir in the ‘sauce’ using tongs or a spaghetti spoon to mix thoroughly. Add a little more pasta water if too dry.

Plate it up in pasta bowls, drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil and top with the pangriata.