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Today: The one way you probably haven't thought about serving asparagus—and you should.
Toast Soup and Chicken in Milk notwithstanding, I swear I don't just find the craziest-sounding recipes and call them genius. But is my interest piqued, are my little genius whiskers set a-quiver? Oh, sure.
So when I saw what seemed like the oddest yet—Alice B. Toklas' Asparagus in Whipped Cream—I had to try it, even though I thought, rather smugly, that it would be terrible.
It sounded like a complete lark, making sense from a person whose most famous recipe is hashish fudge. I couldn't have known how good it would turn out to be.
Set the grassy pop of asparagus against something rich and mellow and it tastes even more vibrantly green—we've done this plenty of times with hollandaise and aioli and poached eggs.
Salted and peppered whipped cream is a little like that, but easier to make than any of them, lighter in form, and arguably springier. I bet we would do well to plop it on all kinds of peas too, corn in summer, and hardier greens in fall.
Toklas allows you to either steam or boil the asparagus, then pour over a dribble of warmed cream and butter before spooning the whipped cream over the top. That extra shot of cream and butter may seem excessive but a) have you seen this recipe? b) the sauce is now even more savory c) look how pretty it is!
I've generally steamed the asparagus in the manner I learned from my father—in a covered sauté pan with a little salt and water splashed in—and warmed the cream and butter properly, in a pot called a butter warmer. But I've also done all the cooking in a microwave—the asparagus steamed in a bowl, the butter and cream heated in a little ramekin—and had equally elegant results.
There is one thing I changed: Toklas says to whip the cream to stiff peaks, but stiffness is akin to butteriness, and especially here can turn globby and unpleasant as it sits. Softer peaks settle nicely into the warm asparagus, and continue to make attractive swirls till the last spear is lifted off the plate.
I served it with a feisty marinated salmon; you could do other seafood or steak or lamb chops. Or, you know, burritos. Call it genius.
Adapted slightly from Greene on Greens by Bert Greene (Workman, 1984)
Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at email@example.com.
The Genius Recipes cookbook is here! (Well, almost.) The book is a mix of greatest hits from the column and unpublished new favorites—all told, over 100 recipes that will change the way you think about cooking. It'll be on shelves in April, but you can pre-order yours now.
Photos by Mark Weinberg