The discount supermarket chains Lidl and Aldi are attracting increasing amounts of media attention and more importantly a rapidly growing share of the weekly food shop here in the UK. Fuelled by the recession we have all had to become increasingly “canny” shoppers, often sacrificing decades of brand loyalty for new and different sounding makes, only to discover that they taste surprisingly similar and all that has really changed is the price. That said I am probably far from typical in the way that I shop, not only do I do a weekly shop but there are daily forays and in extreme case several each day, to all of the surrounding supermarkets as I go in search of that vital something for the latest recipe and / or photo shoot. Apart from offering very competitive prices for a whole variety of things both Aldi and Lidl stock a small number of special and quite exotic items. Many of these special products appear around Christmas while others are available throughout the year and are simply very hard if not impossible to find anywhere else; for example which other British supermarket sells a whole Serrano ham; Lidl does (Jamon Serrano Reserva, 6.5-7.5 kg) and for only £39.99, mind you without some serious help you might be eating ham sandwiches every day for the next 2 to 3 months!. Apart from that the only problem with some of these promotions is that the stock can be quite limited and once it has gone there is no more to replace it until the next promotion. However, on a less grand scale Lidl routinely stock packs of sliced Black Forest Smoked ham (Schwarzwälder Schinken – protected geographical indication, sold in 200g packs (approximately 18 slices) costing £1.99). The ham can be eaten as is or it can be used in a variety of different recipes and it makes a wonderful and versatile addition to a large number of different dishes including the one described below.
White Asparagus, Schwarzwälder Schinken and Boiled Potatoes with a Hollandaise and Chive Sauce
I have long considered white asparagus inferior to green asparagus with its vivid green colour and distinctively tangy taste. However, while I think that the green stuff has it by a short head I have become a convert to white asparagus and can only assume that my previous dislike of the vegetable was the result of too many business trips to Germany where every spring the restaurants would proudly serve white asparagus which had been boiled and then boiled some more and as a result had lost much of its taste and texture. White asparagus of course owes its colour or rather lack of it from being grown in the dark, as you drive through the asparagus growing regions you will see rows of earthed up asparagus beds the sides and tops of which are kept smooth with a plaster’s float trowel and as soon as an asparagus spear breaks through the walls of the bed the stem is harvested using a long screwdriver like tool – to get a better idea as to how asparagus is grown see the following link. Served together with black forest smoked ham, boiled potatoes and hollandaise sauce you have a simple but tasty dish with a variety of different flavours and textures which can be prepared in under 30 minutes.
This dish scarcely merits a recipe it is so simple all the more so because I use ready-made Hollandaise Sauce ( the one sold by Maille is my favourite and once open it keeps in the fridge for up to 6 weeks which, if you are cooking just for one or two people, is a great convenience and saving.
1. Peel 2 or 3 medium-sized potatoes per person, cut in half if necessary, place in a pan of boiling water, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
2. Using a “Y” handled vegetable scraper peel the spears so as to remove their rather tough and bitter outer layer. The individual spears tend to vary al lot in diameter depending upon the age of the plant that they came from but you are likely to need around 6 to 8 spears per person. Once peeled cut-off the lower 2 cms and discard. If the spears are dirty briefly rinse and then place in a saucepan of lightly salted boiling water and leave to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes (you can even get a special asparagus saucepan for the purpose but I find a regular pan quite good enough and my kitchen is already crowded enough!)
3. Carefully warm the Hollandaise sauce in a bowl on top of a saucepan of simmering water, be careful not to let the sauce get too hot or it will split.
4. Wash some freshly cut chives and “slice into small rounds, set the table, pour the drinks and the dish should be ready to plate up: potatoes, then asparagus, sauce and a sprinkling of chives, followed by 3 or 4 slices of ham, finally season with some freshly ground black pepper (the ham is quite salty so your doctor at least would advise no further seasoning with salt!).