In the spotlight
This simple recipe is a wonderful homage to spring and a tease toward Easter with the asparagus and the eggs. It is in the style of an oeuf mollet, but instead of serving toasted bread on the side, the crispy breading is around the egg. The dressing is made fluffy from poached eggs that are blended in, and I incorporate OrlÉans mustard, which is a little milder and sweeter than Dijon, with an old-fashioned, grainy finish.
We make our own jambon de Paris in New York, as part of an amazing charcuterie program we developed with Gilles Verot—the renowned Parisian charcutier. On occasion, you can enjoy this dish at my downtown restaurant DBGB Kitchen and Bar. Duck yolks bring a rich flavor that goes perfectly with the savory ham and the crisp, fresh asparagus. It’s the ultimate New York Sunday brunch dish with a Parisian touch.
Cooking is about tradition, and this recipe is one of its symbols. For a gastronome, simply hearing the words “rum baba” makes the mouth water and conjures up an image of something delicious, moist and fragrant, syrupy and soft… in other words, a moment of perfect pleasure. To see a baba wearing its shiny apricot glaze, waiting to receive the anointing of aged rum, and ultimately to be accompanied by a vanilla cream is to witness a small masterwork of good taste. It is my favorite dessert, and you will find it on the menu at Monaco’s Louis XV restaurant. This version was created in memory of the dessert served at the wedding of King Louis XV to Poland’s Princess Marie Leszczyňska.
Ingredient of the week
Asparagus has always grown wild in the Mediterranean basin and Asia Minor.
In Ancient times, the Romans invented asparagus farming (Apicius gives a recipe for pureed asparagus with egg), the Egyptians immortalized this "stalk of love and pleasure" (asparagus had at that time a reputation as an aphrodisiac) in their bas-relief sculptures, while the Greeks also ate it and used it as a medicinal plant.
Centuries later, Louis XIV of France became obsessed with it to the extent of wanting it on his table during all seasons of the year. He liked to dip it into soft-boiled egg. His head gardener, La Quintinie, devised a way of growing it in greenhouses and in hotbeds.
Asparagus farming was introduced at Argenteuil, France, in the 17th century. Charles Depezat, a gendarme who was stationed there during the 1870 Siege of Paris, took back a number of plants with him on his return to his village of Vineuil, in the Loir-et-Cher region. This is how the Loire Valley asparagus industry was born. Its cultivation later spread to Aquitaine and southern France.
The technique of growing asparagus in hotbeds was adopted in most of Europe, but it never gained a foothold in North America, where green asparagus was preferred.
During his time at the Savoy in London (1890–1897), Auguste Escoffier became strongly convinced of the need to encourage the cultivation of green asparagus – also preferred by the English – at Lauris, in the Vaucluse region of France.
Asparagus has spread to all the continents. China is the leading exporter of preserved asparagus. Peru, the United States, Mexico, and Spain are the leading producers.