The.Boy and I have a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy when it comes to dinner.
By which I mean, I don’t ask him what he wants to eat and then I don’t tell him what he’s eating until he’s actually finished it or is at least halfway through.
Some may decry that as a human rights violation, but you should see how many Mets games he makes me watch.
At the rate with which they lose (the past two Mets-Yankees games being a very rare exception)…trust me, we’re even.
Anyway, I’m pretty sure he barely even glances at what I’ve put in front of him before shoveling it in his mouth (usually because he is so engrossed in the aforementioned sporting events) and, if we’re being honest, even when I say things like “oh we’re having asparagus and leek flan for dinner”, it’s truly anyone’s guess as to how much of my food talk he really comprehends.
The concept of a savory flan for instance, surely had never crossed his mind, and, to be honest, it had never occurred to me either. But that is the genius of Deborah Madison, the woman who took vegetarian cooking and made it simultaneously mainstream and gourmet. And her new cookbook, Vegetable Literacy, is full of treasures like this. Some, like this flan, are fancy enough for dinner parties, but others, like the escarole and potato hash are just perfect for a quick weeknight meal.
In the interest of honesty, I should tell you that this meal was a little too “out there” for The.Boy. But then again, he also claimed that the leeks in the lemony and vibrant ragout that accompany the flan tasted too much like cabbage…so we can just take his opinion with a grain of disbelief.
I, on the other hand, loved it. Every bite.
The flan was creamy with a hint of asparagus flavor, while the sauce that accompanied it was buttery, lemony, and, really, just perfect. And the hash that I served it with was just perfect for soaking up some of those extra juices. Whether you’re looking to wow someone with your cooking prowess or you just kinda want to treat yourself to something a little extra special for dinner, this is definitely it.
And feel free not to tell any of the more vegetable-phobic members of your family exactly what’s in it before they dig in. After that first bite, they just won’t even care.
Asparagus and Leek Flan
Serves 4, adapted from Vegetable Literacy
- 1 ½ to 2 pounds thick asparagus
- Butter, for the ramekins
- 1 tarragon sprig, plus 1 ½ tsp chopped tarragon
- Sea salt
- ¼ cup heavy cream or crème fraiche
- 3 eggs, beaten well
- Freshly ground pepper
- Reserved asparagus spears and tips
- 6 small leeks, white parts only
- 5 tsp butter
- 1 ½ tsp chopped fresh tarragon
- Sea salt
- ½ cup dry white wine
- Reserved asparagus cooking water
- 1 tbsp heavy cream
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- Snipped chives and chive blossoms
- Cut the tough stems off the asparagus and peel the stalks. Set 8 spears aside. Remove the tips from the remaining spears and set them aside with the whole asparagus. Chop the stalks into ½-inch pieces.
- Heat the oven to 325. Lightly butter four ½-cup ramekins. Bring a kettle of water to a boil.
- Put the chopped stalks in a saucepan with 2 cups water, the tarragon sprig, and ½ tsp salt. Simmer until tender but still bright green, 10 to 12 minutes. Scoop out the asparagus, reserving the cooking water. Puree the asparagus in a food processor until perfectly smooth. Scrape the puree into a measuring cup and add enough of the reserved cooking water to measure 1 cup.
- Whisk ¾ cup of the remaining cooking water with the cream and eggs. Stir in the puree and season with ½ tsp salt. Pour the custard through a sieve, then season with pepper and the chopped tarragon.
- Divide the custard among the ramekins. Set them in a baking dish and surround them with boiling water to reach about halfway up their sides. Bake in the center of the oven until the custards are set, about 30 minutes.
- To make the sauce, chop the reserved asparagus spears and tips into small, irregular pieces.
- Quarter the leek lengthwise, then finely dice them crosswise. Swish the pieces around in a bowl of water to loosen any dirt, then lift them out with a sieve and set aside to drain.
- Melt the butter in a wide skillet over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the leeks, tarragon, and a few pinches of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes. Do not allow the leeks to brown. Add the wine and let it reduce. Add a cup of the reserved cooking water and the chopped asparagus. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes, adding more liquid as needed to make a little sauce. Stir in the cream and lemon zest.
- To serve, spoon the vegetables and their juices onto individual plates. Run a small, thin knife blade or flexible spatula around the edge of each ramekin to loosen the custard, then invert it onto the vegetable sauce on each plate. Finish the flans with the chives and serve.
Escarole and Potato Hash
Serves 4-5, adapted from Vegetable Literacy
- 2 russet potatoes or 3 waxy potatoes, or a mixture (about 12 oz), scrubbed
- Sea salt
- 1 large head escarole, leaves separated and chopped coarsely
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large clove garlic, slivered
- Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
- ¼ cup water
- Put the potatoes in a pot with cold water to cover and add 1 tsp salt. Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat to a simmer and cook until tender when pierced with a knife, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain the potatoes, cut them into somewhat larger than bite-sized pieces.
- Separate the escarole leaves at the base and wash well in two changes of water, rubbing the base of the leaves with your fingers to loosen any dirt. Chop them coarsely.
- Heat the oil in a cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the garlic and pepper flakes. Add the potatoes and the escarole and season with salt. Raise the heat to medium high and cook, turning the leaves and potatoes every few minutes with a pair of tongs. After about 5 minutes, add the water and cook until the escarole is wilted and tender. Taste for salt before turning out onto a serving dish.