A taste of spring

Entertaining: It's time again for asparagus.

April 04, 1999|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Asparagus is the quintessential harbinger of spring, and this year I am excited about a new asparagus dish I've created to add to my repertoire.

This delectable salad would make a fine first course to begin a spring dinner. Although the recipe serves 4, it can easily be doubled for a larger group. Grilled chicken, baked salmon or roast leg of lamb would be excellent entrees to follow it.

Warm Goat Cheese Custards With Spring Asparagus

Serves 4

CUSTARDS:

1/2 cup (4 ounces) soft, creamy goat cheese (without herbs or seasonings)

1/8 teaspoon salt, plus extra dash if goat cheese is not very salty

generous dash cayenne pepper

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

DRESSING AND ASPARAGUS:

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest (color portion of rind)

1 teaspoon orange juice

salt

several grinds black pepper

2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound slim asparagus

Spray 4 ( 1/2 -cup) ramekins, custards cups or souffle dishes with nonstick spray and line with circles of wax paper cut to fit bottoms. Spray wax paper in each container.

To prepare custards, whisk together goat cheese, / teaspoon or more salt, cayenne, eggs, sour cream and parsley in mixing bowl until blended and smooth.

Divide mixture evenly among prepared dishes and place in baking pan. Pour enough hot water into pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins. Bake on middle rack at 350 degrees until custards are set, and small, sharp knife inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove to cooling rack for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare dressing. Place vinegar, orange zest and juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper in small, nonreactive bowl. Whisk in olive oil and set aside.

To prepare asparagus, cut off and discard tough ends from stalks. Slice stalks on the diagonal into 2-inch pieces. Fill large skillet halfway with water and bring to boil over high heat. Add asparagus and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until asparagus are just tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Toss asparagus in large bowl with half of dressing and season with more salt if needed. Set aside.

When custards are done, remove from oven. Unmold by gently running knife around inside edges of ramekins and invert onto center of 4 salad plates. Surround each custard with border of asparagus. Drizzle custards lightly with remaining dressing. Serve warm.

Note: Custards can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Reheat at 350 degrees on baking sheet until hot, 10 to 15 minutes. Then unmold.

Dressing can also be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before using and whisk well.

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