Thursday, November 4, 2010

Asparagus Out Of Season: Bert Greene Story About His Cat Dinah Plus Two Recipes

A ginger cat named Duncan (standing in nicely for Dinah)

While making a cup of tea in the kitchen last weekend, stressed out beyond belief (which is saying a lot  because I'm an extreme stress Olympian), Providence intervened and caused me to notice and pull Bert Greene's  Greene on Greens cookbook (New York, Workman Publishing, 1984) from my kitchen bookshelf.

Greene on Greens is a very charming book, one of the best written by the late New York/East Hampton chef and caterer, Bert Greene, which is filled with delicious, carefully written and reliable recipes and Greene's amusing and enlightening anecdotes.

I think I would have liked Bert Greene a lot and enjoyed laughter at his table and in his company.  

An excerpt from one of my favorite stories, concerning his cat Dinah and her love of asparagus, follows:

"For the last ten years I have lived in companionable tranquility with a beautiful redhead named Dinah, whose only real character flaw is an uncontrollable urge for asparagus.

As a matter of fact, Dinah is so affixed on the flavor and crunch of this supple green that she has been known to leap headlong into a sink in April (prime asparagus season, of course) in order to pry a stalk or two from under a flowing tap of cold water.  And this extremely fastidious apricot-colored cat is one female who really hates getting her hair wet.  

One one notable occasion when I planned to open a meal with a course of this tender vegetable upholstered in mustardy hollandaise, I made a grave error. Busy in the kitchen with the other components of the dinner, I allowed a pound and a half of asparagus (fully peeled and blanched) to rest on the dining room table. When I eventually brought out plates for the asparagus, I discovered that my elegant cat had bitten the green tip from every single spear with the precision of a surgeon's scalpel.

As dinner was less than a half hour off, there was not even time for punishment to fit the crime.  Instead the remains were whisked into a blender to become a cool jade soup.

Like the rugged individualist she is, Dinah refused a spoonful when it was proffered her.  But she purred all evening long nonetheless."

Reading Greene's account made me feel better, reminded me of the cats in my life, and of my late mother-in-law Caroline Butler Prutzman and her garden, which was filled with asparagus.  Anyone who has ever tasted warm asparagus fresh from the garden knows that this is sheer, absolute heaven.

Two of Greene's fool-proof recipes follow.  I include the French-Fried Asparagus recipe for anyone who has a child like Jane, who is finally moving into green vegetables nicely through the accommodating media (or mediating accommodations) of batter and the frying pan.  It's a terrific preparation.

French-Fried Asparagus

One of the quickest (and most unusual ways) to prepare asparagus is to french-fry it.  Time:  3 minutes flat.

1 egg
1/2 cup milk
Dash of hot pepper sauce
1/8 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1 teaspooon beef bouillon powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 1/2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and peeled
Vegetable oil for frying

1.  Beat the egg with the milk in a medium-sized shallow dish.  Add the hot pepper sauce, nutmeg, bouillon powder, salt and pepper.  Mix thoroughly.

2.  Place the flour and the bread crumbs in separate shallow dishes.  Roll each spear of asparagus first in the flour; shake off any excess.  Then dip the asparagus into the egg-milk mixture, coating it well, and finally roll it in the bread crumbs.

3.  Pour oil into a large heavy skillet to a depth of 1 inch.  Heat it until hot but not smoking.  Add the asparagus in one layer, in one or more batches as necessary.  Cook over medium-high heat until golden, about 3 minutes.  Drain each batch on paper towels and keep warm while frying the remaining asparagus.

Serves 4.

Asparagus and Spinach Soup (Can Be Served Hot or Chilled)

1 pound aparagus, peeled and trimmed
3 cups Chicken Stock
1 cup fresh spinach leaves, washed
10 whole scallions, bulbs and green tops, roughly chopped
Pinch of ground cloves
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sour cream (optional)

1. Place the asparagus in a medium saucepan and cover with the chicken stock.  Heat to boiling over high heat; reduce the heat.  Simmer, covered, 3 minutes.  Remove the asapagus from the broth and set aside.  Add the spinach to the saucepan and cook 3 minutes.  Drain; reserve the broth.

2.  Cut the tips off the asparagus; reserve.  Chop the stems into 1-inch pieces; reserve.

3.  Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat.  Add the scallions; cook until wilted.  Stir in the cloves, cooked spinach and asparagus stems.  Cook, covered, over low heat for 10 minutes.  Remove the cover; add the reserved broth.

4. Place the cornstarch in a small bowl.  Slowly beat in the cream until the mixture is smooth.  Stir this into the vegetable mixture in the saucepan.  Heat to boiling; remove from the heat.

5.  Cool the mixture slightly and puree it in a blender or processor in two batches (being careful: hot liquid will expand).  Return the puree to the saucepan and reheat over low heat.  Season with salt and pepper to taste; stir in the asparagus tips.  Serve, garnished with dabs of sour cream if desired.

Serves 6 to 8.

Note To Reader:  In researching this entry, I discovered an unusual, actually highly appealing (despite the name), recipe for Asparagus-Lemongrass Cappuccino.  I would be happy to post this if there is any interest.  N.b.:  This is a light, frothy soup.  There is no coffee included among the ingredients. That  would, of course, be horrible.


  1. That cat is very cute :) And I had asparagus for dinner last night.

  2. That cat IS very cute. I can't believe I was able to find a picture of a ginger cat eating asparagus tips. The internet is a STRANGE country. We love asparagus. Spring is....just around the corner. Curtis

  3. Hello,
    This is my first visit here.
    I am charmed to discover that there is someone else out there who is familiar with Bert Greene!
    I first bought one of his cookbooks used many years ago, and,as a vegetarian rarely use his recipes but still often page through his books only for his wry and funny companionship. I wish I knew more about him.
    Anyway, hello across the internet from one Bert Greene fan to another!

  4. Alison -- Hi. I'm so glad you visited. My mother first introduced me to Bert Greene (his reputation as a very good NY area cook and caterer) and his books a long time ago. They're charming, as you say, and the recipes tend to be very, very good and they work. I also read the books for fun. We used to be vegetarian and will be again some day, I'm sure. Thank you so much for writing. I hope you visit again. I try to vary what I include here a lot, so I expect you may find something else that you might like. Curtis P.S. As cat owners/lovers, the Dinah story appealed to us a lot. Greetings from Los Angeles, where we've traveled for a few days. It's great to be here after the Pennsylvania and New York winters. C.