Spring Canapés with Parmesan, Fresh Radish & Asparagus ‘Custard’

Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

Another spring recipe for you readers.

And another way for me to get through the huge bunch of asparagus I bought this week. Even better, this recipe calls for the asparagus wood – the fibrous ends that you snap off and leave to rot in the back of your fridge. If you’re anything like me!

Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

This beautiful canapé also offers me the opportunity to share with you an alternative, egg-free, way of making ‘custard’. I learned this technique while working at Vanilla Black, an extremely creative, vegetarian fine dining restaurant in London. This restaurant makes the most interesting vegetarian food I have ever seen or tasted. It’s pretty decadent, but well worth it for a special treat. Although working there was one of the most exhausting experiences of my whole life, I learned an immeasurable amount about new and imaginative takes on familiar ingredients, and for that I am permanently indebted to the staff there who taught me what they knew.

Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

So, this is one of their recipes. I assume it was created by Daniel Mongraw, who was head chef and responsible for all menu development at the time, but I’m not completely sure. He was the most inspiring chef I have ever worked with – a picture of unflappable knowledge and competence, building unique vegetarian dishes from the ground up – creating a vegetarian cuisine, not just a mishmash plucked from various unrelated, vegetarian-friendly ethnicities.

Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

But back to that custard. Asparagus wood is steeped in mixture of milk and a little cream before being blended and strained, to extract maximum flavour from the vegetable cast-off. The resulting mixture is then heated with agar to activate the seaweed gelling agent, before being left to set. Once solid, it is blended in a high powered blender, resulting in a beautifully thick, smooth cream in the palest green. The perfect complement to the pink of the radishes.

We also made a vegan version of this ‘custard’ at the restaurant – a simple matter of substituting the milk and cream for equal weight of soya milk. The flavour was pretty similar.

Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

One minor word of warning. It is important that you measure the amount of liquid you end up with after straining out the asparagus and adjust the agar proportionally if necessary. Time to remember how to work out percentages! The amount of agar listed in the recipe is appropriate for the amount of liquid that is also listed. If you have less liquid, the custard will set harder and be grainy after blending. If you have more liquid, the mixture will not set properly and the result will be too liquidy. No one wants that.

You will need a micro scale to accurately measure the agar and salt quantities for this recipe (what can I say, it’s a Vanilla Black recipe!). They are unbelievably cheap now, about £5, and I use one all the time for measuring small quantities. Bigger domestic scales are never accurate for small amounts.

Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

This custard is pretty salty as it is designed to be used very sparingly in something like a canapé. If you have other plans for it, you may wish to season to taste before you add the agar, instead of following the seasoning instructions in the recipe.

You could use this asparagus ‘custard’ for any number of delicious dishes, but here I have paired it with lightly toasted slivers of sourdough, a shaving of ‘Parmesan’ cheese, a few rounds of peppery radish and a sprig of fresh thyme. Oh, and cocktails of course.

Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

Please click here to see the formatted, printable recipe on Ramsons & Bramble




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