As you saw in my last post, we spent Saturday evening at our house celebrating both my dad’s birthday and my parents’ 37th anniversary. I love cooking for others, but particularly my family since they are some of the biggest food lovers I know. In fact, food is the focus of most of our family gatherings, and last weekend was no different.
I’m happy to report that I’ve streamlined my process of cooking a meal for guests. In the past I would look furiously through almost every cookbook I own (and that’s saying A LOT considering how many I have!) trying to find the perfect appetizer, the perfect salad, the perfect everything- and by perfect I mean choosing recipes that required me to make everything from scratch- and I mean everything. I don’t know why I thought slaving all day and preparing no less than five intricate creations was the only way to achieve the Perfect Dinner Party. Luckily I’ve seen the error of my ways, and although I love cooking more than ever before, I have calmed down a bit and realized that a good dinner party doesn’t have to be so difficult. Hmm, I sound like the Barefoot Contessa, don’t I?? Look, I am never going to pull a Sandra Lee and open up a can of beans, toss in some hot dogs and call it dinner, but I’ve began to embrace the idea that buying a few pre-made items or keeping it really simple isn’t a sin.
That said, I went with a simple starter of Puree of Asparagus Soup which I made one day a few weeks back when I had an extra bunch of asparagus in my refrigerator. At the time I just made it up as I went along and was quite pleased with the results. It’s honestly one of the simplest things you will ever make (I posted the recipe below) but people seem to think you spent a lot of time on it. I topped each bowl of soup with tiny croutons made with 2 slices of multigrain bread that sat forlornly in the freezer- I just diced them up (still frozen- it’s much easier to cut) and tossed them with some olive oil, salt and pepper and baked them until they were golden.
The only thing I used a recipe on was the Young Onion Tart with Cantal, Applewood-Smoked Bacon, and Herb Salad from my trusty and well-stained Sunday Suppers at Lucques Cookbook. I can’t tell you how much I adore it….it’s like the favorite child of my cookbook collection! Every dish I’ve ever made out of Suzanne Goin’s beautiful book has been outrageously delicious. I bought the puff pastry (my dad asked if I made it which made me laugh….I’m afraid that making puff pastry before a dinner party is a quick way of going stark raving mad) and layered it with a creamy mixture of ricotta, crème fraiche and egg yolk, slices of both young and cave-aged gruyere (I couldn’t find Cantal), a smattering of sautéed young onions and thick slices of smoked bacon. I actually used half the amount of bacon the recipe called for –sorry Michael Symon!- I love it but this tart is rich enough as it is. I did sauté the onions in the rendered bacon fat if that makes you feel any better! A nice showering of fresh tarragon, chives, chervil and parsley plus a drizzle of fresh lemon juice finished off the tart.
While on an excursion to the local farmer’s market to pick up the aforementioned herbs and young onions, I spotted some gorgeous baby carrots with the stalks still attached. I try not to mess too much with such amazing produce, so after tossing the trimmed carrots with some good olive oil, sea salt and pepper, a quick roast in the oven was all it took to bring out their natural sweetness. I especially loved how the slimmer parts of the carrots turned golden and crunchy. I also picked up a bag of some beautiful mixed greens which only needed a quick toss with a vinaigrette made with lemon juice, olive oil and Dijon mustard.
Everything was quite easy to make, and since the tart can be assembled and the soup made completely in advance, I got to sit and sip champagne with my family before we sat down for the meal. No sweat, no running around…it was lovely!
Puree of Asparagus Soup
1 TBS olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
4 sage leaves roughly chopped – optional
2 bunches of asparagus- about 15 spears total (I prefer to use the fat, meaty ones for soup as opposed to the pencil thin ones)- cut into smaller pieces
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock- divided
Salt & pepper
Note: I purposely leave out carrots which are usually used as aromatics because I don’t want the orange of them to taint the pure, green color of this soup. I also do not use garlic since I really wanted the flavor of the asparagus to shine through. You can certainly add both during the sautéing stage if you prefer.
Heat the olive oil in a stock pot over medium heat and add the onions and celery; sauté until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the sage leaves if you are using and heat through. Add cut asparagus and sauté about an additional 5 minutes. Add the chicken or veggie stock until it reaches about an inch above the vegetables, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15- 20 minutes or until everything is tender.
Transfer about 1/3 of the mixture to a blender, and, holding the lid with a thick towel, very carefully blend the mixture until smooth. Transfer the puree to a large, clean mixing bowl and repeat with remaining mixture until all of it is pureed. Return entire puree to the stock pot, taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Heat through and serve. Garnish with croutons if you like.