Paradiso, one of Ireland’s first and most well-known vegetarian restaurants (16 Lancaster Quay, Cork City), is well known for its imaginative dishes, created most often by adding layers of flavor and texture to one ingredient. This recipe, featuring asparagus, is also a perfect side dish for turkey lovers on Thanksgiving. At Paradiso the asparagus is topped with Hegarty’s, a sumptuous Cork-made Cheddar sauce (substitute Kerrygold’s Mature or Reserve Cheddar), nutty crumb, and tangy capers. Make the crumb, which chef-proprietor Denis Cotter calls the “crunchy stuff” because it delivers a “flavor hit” to vegetarian dishes, and fry the capers in advance.
ASPARAGUS, HEGARTY’S CHEDDAR, MUSTARD, HAZELNUT CRUMB, FRIED CAPERS
For the hazelnut crumb
2 ounces skinned hazelnuts
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
For the fried capers
4 ounces capers
Canola oil for frying
For the sauce
1/3 cup white wine
1/4 cup vegetable stock
2/3 cup cream
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 ounces Cheddar, finely grated
Ground black pepper
For the asparagus
12 to 16 asparagus spears, ends snapped
Extra virgin olive oil
1. Make the crumb. Preheat the oven to 225°F. Place the hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Let cool; coarsely chop.
2. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Stir in the breadcrumbs. Toast, stirring frequently, until golden. When crumbs are crisp, stir in the nuts and thyme. Cook for about 1 minute. Remove from heat; let cool. (Can be stored in a dry airtight container for up to 2 weeks).
3. Make the capers. Drain the capers; pat dry. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of oil. Add the capers; fry until they stop sizzling. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Dry and cool. (Can be stored in a dry airtight container for 2 to 3 days).
4. Make the sauce. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the wine and stock to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer. Cook to 4 to 6 minutes, or until reduced to about 1/4 cup. Add the cream; return to boil.
5. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer, until the sauce thickens slightly. Whisk in the mustard and Cheddar until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Make the asparagus. Heat a heavy-based skillet or griddle pan over high heat. Add the asparagus. Drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with salt. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, turning often, until asparagus are seared and nearly tender.
7. To serve, arrange the asparagus on individual plates or a serving platter. Reheat the mustard cream; pour over. Sprinkle on the hazelnut crumb and capers.
Margaret Johnson’s “Recipes” page now includes “Ireland Hopping: Adventures in Food, Drink, and Travel.” For further details on her work, including how to order her cookbooks, visit irishcook.com.