Surprise your taste buds with a recipe from Alice B. Toklas
Whipped cream tends to stay offstage until dessert time, when the sweets come out. But why? We know that cream partners well with salt and pepper. And many savory foods depend on it (think creamy mashed potatoes or luscious quiche).
So we’ve decided to let whipped cream step out early, dressed in savory seasoning–and chaperoned by asparagus.
Asparagus is elegant by nature, of course. But whipped cream brings out its playful side.
Recipe: Asparagus with Savory Whipped Cream
We found this recipe in Bert Greene’s Green on Greens. He, in turn, found it in The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book.
Toklas recreated this dish after tasting it at Madame Loubet’s small restaurant in Grignan, a town in southeastern France. It was served as a separate course in a four-course meal that Toklas shared with her partner, Gertrude Stein, and some friends. Did Madame Loubet create this recipe on her own, or did she learn it from someone else? Who knows!
You can use any style of cooked asparagus for this dish. We blanch ours in simmering water ahead of time, then reheat it right before serving. But you could also steam or roast it.
Prep and cooking time for this recipe is 10 to 15 minutes. This recipe yields 4 servings. You won’t have any leftovers, trust us.
- ~1½ pounds asparagus (exact quantity not critical, but aim for about 1 pound of asparagus when trimmed)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt (for flavoring the blanching water)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (½ stick)
- 1 cup heavy (or double) cream, divided
- additional ¼ to ½ teaspoon kosher salt for flavoring the whipped cream (to taste; see Notes)
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
- Cook the asparagus ahead of time (if you prefer to cook it right before serving, see Notes): Cut (or snap) off the less tender butt end of each asparagus spear (we remove about a third). Peel the asparagus if you wish (we rarely do). Fill a large frying pan halfway with water (use a 12-inch frying pan if you have one, otherwise 10-inch). Bring the water to a simmer. Add a tablespoon of salt, then add the asparagus. Cook until done—about 5 or 6 minutes. The asparagus is done when it’s tender, but still just a bit firm.
- While the asparagus is cooking, pour several cups of ice into a large bowl. Fill the bowl with cold water. When the asparagus is done, remove it from the frying pan with tongs and submerge it in the iced water. Chill the asparagus for about 5 minutes, then remove it from the water and drain it on a kitchen towel. If you plan to serve the asparagus within the next 3 hours, keep it at room temperature. Otherwise, refrigerate it until you’re ready to finish the dish.
- When ready to finish the dish, place the butter and ¼ cup of cream in a large frying pan. Place the pan over moderately low stovetop heat.
- While the pan is heating (and the butter is melting), whip the remaining ¾ cup of cream. (We prefer to use a stand mixer for this, but a hand mixer or wire whisk works well too). When the cream reaches the soft-peak stage, add salt and pepper to taste. Continue whipping until the cream reaches the stage of firmness you prefer (for us, that’s just beyond soft peak.) Do note that, at this stage, the whipped cream will taste rather salty; it will taste less salty when added to the asparagus. See Notes.
- After the butter has melted, add the asparagus (Step 2) to the frying pan. Cook over low heat until the asparagus is just cooked through (keep the butter/cream mixture just below a simmer). Roll the asparagus spears in the butter/cream mixture so that each is nicely coated.
- Remove the asparagus from the pan and arrange it on serving plates (with all the tips facing in the same direction). Garnish with the whipped cream, and serve.
- In Britain, “double” cream is what we in the US call “heavy” cream.
- Toklas’s original recipe calls for using asparagus tips (which would mean cutting off half of each asparagus spear, or perhaps a bit more). It’s not necessary to remove that much, in our opinion, unless your asparagus is extremely thick and woody (which it rarely is early in the spring).
- As noted in Step 4 of the Procedure, the whipped cream will taste a bit salty when you sample it straight from the bowl. But after you add the seasoned whipped cream to the asparagus (and the heat of the asparagus begins to melt the whipped cream), it should taste just right. If in doubt, underseason the whipped cream; you can always add more seasoning at table.
- We use kosher salt for cooking. Kosher salt has bigger flakes than table salt, so it doesn’t fill a measuring spoon as “tightly.” Hence, it’s less salty by volume. If you’re using regular table salt, use only about half as much as we suggest.
- With that said, always season to your own taste. Toklas’s original recipe calls for ½ teaspoon table salt—way too much in our opinion.
- Toklas didn’t include black pepper in her recipe—that’s Greene’s addition, and a darn good one.
- We haven’t tried it, but wonder if a pinch of cayenne pepper might be another fun addition to the whipped cream.
- BTW, homemade whipped cream isn’t particularly fragile; you can whip it an hour or two ahead of time if necessary. Just refrigerate it in a covered container until ready to use.
- We like to cook the asparagus ahead of time when we make this recipe, then immediately chill it in iced water to stop the cooking and preserve the color. This makes final assembly of the dish a snap. If you prefer to cook the asparagus right before serving, just cook it as you normally would, and omit the chilling step.
- Alice B. Toklas was the life partner of writer Gertrude Stein. They met in Paris in 1907, when they were both in their early 30s.
- Toklas wrote two cookbooks. Her first, The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, was published in 1954. It’s half memoir, half recipes (and it’s a fun read). This cookbook contained her famous recipe for “haschich fudge” (which later morphed into cannabis brownies). Toklas noted that the fudge recipe “might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies’ Bridge Club.” Can’t argue with that. Toklas’s second cookbook, Aromas and Flavors of Past and Present, appeared in 1958.
“Asparagus is asparagus is asparagus,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Except when it’s even better, like in this dish.”
“Are you going full Gertrude Stein today?” I said.
“Could be,” said Mrs K R. “This Alice B. Toklas recipe has inspired me to whip out some bon mots.”
“But it hasn’t cured you of punning,” I said. “Maybe Alice should crack the whip.”
“Worry not,” said Mrs K R. “With this dish as muse, my puns will be cream of the crop.”
“Just like this asparagus,” I said. “And to think I whipped up this charmer in a trice.”
“You seem to be whipping it away just as quickly,” said Mrs K R. “Your plate looks scrupulously clean.”
True. You might say there’s no there there.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Pineapple, Coconut, and Carrot Salad
Asparagus and Spinach Salad
Edamame and Bean Salad
Kale and Cabbage Gratin
Celery Root and Potato Gratin
Or check out the index for more recipes