Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Steam Team

Carciofini, Patate Dolce, Fagioli di Soia, Asparagi & Menta, al Vapore
Steamed Baby Artichokes, Sweet Potato, Edamame, Asparagus & Mint

Springtime is with us, although it may be a bit slow in kicking into gear at the moment. Still- I have my first asparagus of the season and I mean to use it! So this evening, I decided to try thinking up yet another dish- one that would be a little different to the "same-old-same-old, slathered in butter sauce and wrapped in ham" kinds of dishes that drive me crazy... Doesn't anybody else out there want to try anything a little different already?!?!

One of the things that drives me crazy about "traditional" asparagus dishes in Germany and France at least, is when people talk about them being so "light", just because asparagus is a vegetable and because it is usually either cooked by boiling or steaming. That part of it is fine. The part that isn't, is the hideously fatty sauces, made with lots of butter and some egg yolk that totally overpower it... some even have cream added... and are thickened with flour or corn starch... ugh! You may enjoy those kinds of dishes, you have every right to do so- but I don't- and I say nay, nay and thrice nay!

Let me just get down from my soap-box. There ya go! So- where was I? Exactly... my supper this evening! This was a dish that WAS light, that was also delicious and  that was full of fresh, Springtime flavor. 

As usual, the ingredients were simple and few- but so tasty and good! I had 3 baby artichokes, 2 small sweet potatoes, a good handful of frozen edamame (does it even exist in fresh?)- haha! It definitely doesn't here in Europe! A handful of green asparagus, a nice sprig of fresh mint and a Spring onion for a touch of savory sweetness to bring all of those other flavors together. With a hint of lemon and some good olive oil... that was all I needed right there. Oh.. except for plenty of steam to get it all cooked!

So, the first thing that needed to be done was for the potatoes to be peeled and cut into slices of about 1" thick and for the artichokes to be prepared. If you haven't done this before, it is very simple. Pluck away the tougher, outer leaves and then cut away the top third of the leaves- these are always tough and not eatable anyway. 

As soon as you have cut the artichokes, make sure to rub the cut surface with lemon or dip it into lemon juice to prevent it becoming dark and discolored. Next, cut the artichokes first into halves and then into quarters and then cut away the "choke", those fine "hairs" at the heart of the artichoke... which you will indeed choke on of you don't remove them. And again- remember to rub well with lemon.

Lay the artichokes out in your steamer, face-down, so that the steam gets right into them and goes straight in-between the leaves and spread the sweet potato slices in-between.

Have I ever mentioned that I set my steamer on top of a frying pan and not a saucepan? Well I do :-) and the reason I do this is that a.) you do not need that much water to make a whole lot of steam and b.) because it obviously comes to the boil much, much quicker. I sprinkled them lightly with salt and steamed them for 10 minutes... this was step one.

Step two involved flipping the sweet potatoes and artichokes over, adding the frozen edamame, seasoning properly with salt and pepper, a little nutmeg and half of the mint, finely chopped. And then back onto the heat they went for another 10 minutes.

In the meaning, I took a little handful of green asparagus and cut the stalks in half. This makes it look more delicate and obviously cook more quickly and easily... even though it can be a rather fiddly affair to cut them in the first place.

I found that by using a small vegetable knife, or paring knife and holding the asparagus stalk in one hand and running the knife down the length of it with the other, it was much, much easier than it is if you lay the asparagus on your chopping board and try to use a kitchen knife. 

As soon as the sweet potatoes and artichokes second side were steamed, I flipped them over again, added the asparagus and popped it back on the heat for a further 5-6 until the asparagus was cooked but still crisp and fresh tasting.

As soon as I removed the lid,the aroma that greeted me was pretty fantastic- minty and sweet with a rich asparagus undertone- each ingredients unique flavor and texture coming through- that's what I call Springtime!

This dish is based in principle on the classic Italian combination of artichoke, potato, mint and peas... but of course I had to be different, didn't I? Haha!

I then scattered the finely chopped Spring onion on top and then replaced the lid to let it lose a bit of that rawness and become a little milder. Next cam the last of the finely chopped mint, a squeeze of lemon juice, salt, pepper and a nice drizzle of olive oil- that is all you need to add lots of flavor and to bring out all of the other ingredients own flavors... because it is always about teamwork in cooking! 

So there you have it- much, much lighter... I would say much tastier and a lot more fun- and just as pretty as a picture! What's not to like?

The combination with the sweet potato, mint and edamame is lovely and mild, as well as being "light" and filling at the same time. Sure, those sweet potatoes are carbs... but please don't get me started on that subject! The big thing to avoid is excess fat and this is a great way to do it! 

So- a new favorite combination is born... another handful of aspragus is gone... and a final handful remains and will be transformed into something else to thrill and delight you all! And more importantly than anything else- to be my supper!

And maybe to be yours too, should you like the look and sound of it... although somehow I am pretty sure that you will...

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