I’ve got a couple of confessions to make. First, I opened the cookbook I bought my son-in-law Vukasin for Christmas, and used it this weekend. Second, I’ve got a real love affair going with my Facebook friend and French chef, Jacques Pépin. His videos pop up on my FB feed, and I can’t help but watch them every single day. He’s brilliant. He takes the most mundane things and turns them into culinary gems. I’ve learned so much from Jacques.
Once he took a bunch of wilted-looking veggies from his fridge, chopped them up and sautéed them in butter and olive oil, and then beat a few eggs and poured them on top. I know it was nothing more than a veggie scramble, but after I watched him do it, I tried it the next day. I had a bit of old kale, wrinkled cherry tomatoes, a handful of mushrooms that maybe had two days left to them, and half an onion left over in the fridge. I cooked it all just like Jacques did. Then, in a stroke of my own genius, I broke up some goat cheese I had in the fridge and topped the eggs and veggies with it. The result was an incredibly rich egg dish that was eaten just as quickly as a slice of chocolate cake around my house.
Well, last Saturday, when I couldn’t keep myself from poring over Vukasin’s Christmas gift, I found this recipe for Asparagus with Black Olives and Mustard Dressing. As usual, though, I changed things up a little. We’d had a dozen deviled eggs for Thanksgiving, so I had my fill of hard-boiled eggs, and left those out of the recipe. And I had no baguette or “country bread,” so I used some old hamburger buns we had, chopped them into squares, drizzled them with olive oil, and sprinkled them with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder before I baked them. I also chopped the asparagus into 2-inch pieces before cooking it, because I wanted to serve mine like a tossed salad; Jacques insists on shaping the cooked long spears into a square on each plate and then heaping the olives and eggs in the center. That’s where we differ. Our first fight.
Asparagus with Black Olives and Mustard Dressing
16 large, firm asparagus, about 1 pound
1 cup diced country bread or baguette
1 Tbsp. canola oil
2 large hard-cooked eggs, diced (I skipped these)
¼ cup cured black olives (I used kalamata)
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. water
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground pepper
¼ cup walnut oil (I used olive oil)
Preheat the oven to 400°. Peel the bottom third of each asparagus spear. Pour two cups of water into a saucepan or skillet large enough to hold the asparagus in one or two layers. Add the asparagus, cover, bring to a boil, and boil for about 3 minutes (I cooked my chopped asparagus closer to 5 minutes). Drain.
Cut about 2½ inches from the bottom of each asparagus spear, and cut the lengths into ½-inch pieces. (I didn’t do this.) Set the asparagus aside.
Toss the bread cubes with oil and spread on a baking sheet. Bake for 9 to 10 minutes, until nicely browned. (See above-mentioned hamburger buns.)
For the dressing: Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. At serving time, toss the chopped asparagus stems, eggs, and olives with the mustard dressing. Arrange 4 asparagus spears into a square on 4 plates. Fill centers with olive garnish and top with croutons. (I tossed everything with the dressing and served it as a sort of fancy and delicious salad. Jacques says to serve it at room temperature, so I did.)