Weekend Breakfast-at-Camont. Asparagus & HAM
It begins here, with two good ingredients.
Ham- Eric Ospital’s Ibaiona brand from the Basque Country.
Asparagus- local, just picked and carried to the market so fresh it snaps.
This week, my Kitchen Godmother, Vétou Pompele, came by for weekend breakfast (a decidedly not French event) and asked me what I would make for her.
I grabbed a copy of my first cookbook that chronicled my early days sailing on the Julia Hoyt and said,
“Your Asparagus and Ham dish, of course”.
She had forgotten about what was long one of my favorite dishes. It’s easy. When you cook everyday, EVERY DAY, that’s a lot of recipes under the bridge. We have both forgotten half of the wonderful dishes we cooked together over years of sailing the canals and rivers of France on the Julia Hoyt. This was always one of my Spring favorites, because unlike my life BF (Before France), asparagus is a once a year event, a few scant weeks of spear-ful delight.
ASPARAGUS: Not only does this showcase the first thin green asparagus barely warmed in a saute pan, but gives green garlic, spring onions and the first mint leaves a supporting role to join in the Spring celebration. Wild foraged asparagus would work great as well.
HAM: The Ham? oh, the HAM. This is indeed HAM spelled in big letters. Eric Ospital’s Ibaiona hand-crafted HAM is aged in sechoirs or drying rooms near Hasparren in the Basque Countries. As sweet as salty, and barely both, there is a toasted nut flavor that lingers as the ham melts on your tongue. It has spoiled me forever. No more cheap ham! or maybe your home-made wild boar ventreche, Hank Shaw?
GREENS: We gathered, some garlic shoots- a good reason to plant garlic last November- thanks Lisa! Then hunted down the mint which is just sprouting after a hard winter, and picked some thyme. I call this ‘frontdoor foraging’- the things I planted, let go wild and then provide my kitchen with high points all year long.
This is a great dish to just use the tips and reserve the stalks for soup or my gingered aspargus stem pickles. I served the barely cooked asparagus while Vetou poured Champagne. The poached eggs have yolks as deep orange as only home-grown eggs can be so I slipped one over a nest of asparagus; more ham was left to pile on the plate, the thin slices waving like little Basque flags before we popped them in our mouths.
These are the meals I love best. Friends, family, some good food and a great idea. Merci Madame Pompèle!
and now the recipe…
Asperges de Vetou
- 1 tablespoon duck fat (you forgot I was in Gascony?)
- a couple oz or 60-80 grams of thinly sliced ham, ventreche, bacon, etc…
- 1 small bunch new spring onions, sliced in half lengthwise
- a few fresh green garlic shoots- we call them aillets, also sliced lengthwise
- 1 bunch perfectly fresh asparagus- white or green, peeled, trimmed and cut in thirds
- 1 mint leaf (swear that Vetou only uses one!)
- a few springs of fresh thyme
- seas salt and freshly ground pepper
- half a glass of white wine
- heat the duck fat in a heavy saute pan over medium high heat. Add the ham and warm briefly.
- add the onions and garlic, sauteing gently until half-cooked.
- add the mint leaf, a little thyme, salt & pepper. Now cover, turn down the heat a little, and cook for 10 minutes or so. keep an eye on it, you don’t want mushy tips, but nether do you want a crunchy mess. the flavors have to melt into each other. No need to add water because the asparagus is so fresh it gives up it’s sap and makes a nice pot liquor.
- now, take off the lid, add the wine and let it become sauce as it finds the fat and flavor.
- when the asparagus is perfectly done, remove to a warm dish, and crank the heat up to reduce the sauce further if desired. for those so inclined, a knob of butter swirled around the pan will emulsify and enrich the sauce. Because we are serving this with poached eggs, I skipped this unnecessary addition. The egg yolks are the sauce!
- serve with poached eggs and copious rashers of thinly sliced very good ham.
Enjoy a weekend breakfast with friends…