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April 22, 2011

            Welcome back to the kitchen. Ahhh spring. It’s a truly lovely time of year. For many, this time is marked by celebrations of the easter holiday. I wasn’t raised with my own family easter traditions, but I absorbed my share of candy, egg hunts, and shiny fake grass vicariously.

            And I have been to a few great Easter brunches and dinners in my time. I’ve come to understand that ham is a staple easter food for many, and I can certainly appreciate that. A good sweet/salty bone-in ham is a true thing of beauty, and the leftovers can fuel many a great meal afterwards.

            But I’m not going to suggest we roast a whole ham. It is totally worth it, but also a bit extravagant. Another easter classic for the brunch set is eggs benedict, that perfect pairing of poached egg, Canadian bacon (or ham), and hollandaise sauce over a split english muffin.

            I also adore eggs benedict. But getting your hollandaise sauce just right is actually pretty tricky, which is surprising when you consider it is basically just emulsified egg yolks, butter, lemon juice, and hot sauce. Still, it does take some practice to end up with a correctly creamy sauce and not scrambled eggs.

            And I hate to point this out, but hollandaise sauce may well be one of the least healthy sauces you can make. So I want to propose my own take on easter brunch that is both healthier and easier to accomplish. Let’s make prosciutto-wrapped grilled asparagus benedict with a healthier yogurt-based hollandaise. We’ll have some rosemary roasted red potato home fries, some greens, and a fruit salad on the side.

            Sounds pretty good, no? If we can find prosciutto (which is available at most deli counters), we can cut down further on the fat without sacrificing any flavor. The yogurt hollandaise sauce isn’t a perfect replacement for hollandaise. That is not to say that it isn’t very tasty, because it is. It’s just that there really is no substitute for a ton of butter. But think of this dish as something new and delicious, not something that can make you fully forget the original.

            I want to make sure we use asparagus in this brunch, because it is coming in fresh from Quincy and it is one of our tastiest and shortest lived local crops. Prosciutto wrapped asparagus is a classic appetizer or side dish, so I thought why not incorporate it into the benedict itself?

            So for these low(er) fat prosciutto-wrapped asparagus eggs benedict (for four people) we’ll need:

 

-8 farm fresh eggs

-4 whole wheat English muffins or fresh baked ciabatta rolls

-16 asparagus spears

-8 large, thin slices of prosciutto, each piece cut in half again

-a brushing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar (maybe just a teaspoon or so)

-fresh chopped chives and parsley plus a pinch of paprika for garnish

 

For the yogurt and chive hollandaise we’ll need:

 

 

3 egg yolks
½ to 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (depending on taste)
1 cup plain yogurt, low fat Greek style preferred

A small dash of fresh lemon juice (like 1 teaspoon or so)

A small dash of hot sauce like Tabasco
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
pepper to taste (plus a pinch of salt if needed)

 

            OK, so let’s start off by roasting the prosciutto asparagus. We can do this in the oven just fine, but doing it on the bbq grill will add a nice smokey flavor. Start by rinsing the asparagus spears and snapping off the woody end, about the last inch or so. Do this part by hand, not with a knife, because the asparagus will snap right where it needs to.

            Next, cut all the spears in half so they will be short enough to fit on the English muffins. Take two pieces of asparagus (or two halves rather, for one whole spear) and lay them side by side. Take one of the half pieces of prosicutto and wrap it around the middle of the asparagus. It should be wapped tightly enough to just sort of stick to itself. Put each completed prosciutto-wrapped asparagus packet onto a plate.

            When all 16 asparagus wraps are done, sprinkle a little bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the whole plate and turn them all over so they each get a bit of flavoring. I would also add some fresh black pepper here as well. If you are roasting them in the oven, preheat it to 400 degrees and lay out the asparagus on a baking sheet. If you are grilling them, preheat the barbecue to medium high.

            It will only take a few minutes to cook the asparagus and crisp up the prosciutto a bit, so don’t leave these unattended. Turn the bundles over after about 2 minutes and cook until the asparagus is fork tender but not mushy. Yum! It’s hard not to just eat these as is, but set them aside for now.

 

            Next lets make the low fat yogurt hollandaise sauce. First we need to separate the egg yolks from the whites. To do this, crack an egg and pass the yolk back and forth between the shell halves over a bowl, letting the egg white drop away into the bowl with each pass. Soon enough, you will have just the yolk left. Put that into a medium metal bowl and repeat until you have 3 yolks. You can discard the egg whites or cook them up for an extra health conscious person (yes, the yolk contains all of the cholesterol).

            Using a wire whisk, beat the egg yolks, lemon juice, and yogurt in the metal bowl. Beat it for at least a few minutes, until it is nice and creamy. If you have a double boiler, use that next. But even easier, just use a pot that is smaller than the bowl, bring some water to a boil, then set the metal bowl on top (making sure the bottom doesn’t actually touch the boiling water directly). The point of using a (real or makeshift) double boiler like this is it keeps the sauce heating on a constant, controlled low temperature that can’t spike above 212 degrees. If you cook hollandaise too quickly, the eggs will scramble.

            Anyway, keep beating the egg yolks, yogurt, etc over the heat until it thickens up. You may notice that it actually gets thinner first, then thickens up after about 10 minutes or so. You want to make sure you stir fairly frequently while this is cooking. After 10-15 minutes, when the sauce is thick, remove it from the heat but keep it over the steaming water to keep it hot.

            Stir in the hot sauce, mustard, pepper, and fresh chives. Parlsley would also be tasty in here, and tarragon could be amazing as well. The sauce will keep, warm, for about an hour or so. If it cools and gets too thick, add a very little bit of boiling water and warm it up on the double boiler.

 

            OK, so we’ve got our roasted asparagus wrapped with prosciutto, and our creamy lower fat hollandaise sauce. All we need to do now is poach our eggs and toast our English muffins.

            Poaching eggs is really simple, and low fat, but it can take a little practice. Basically we are going to cook them in ALMOST boiling water. But if the water gets too hot and actually gets boiling, it will break up the egg and ruin it. Many cooks add a tablespoon or two of white vinegar to the water, which supposedly helps to firm up the egg white and keep it together.

            So half fill a sauce pan with water and bring it to an almost boil. If it starts actually boiling away, turn the heat down until it calms down. It is best to work with your eggs one by one, unless you have one of those handy poaching cups pan inserts. Add the vinegar, if you want (it is optional).

            Crack an egg into a small cup, bring it close to the surface of the pan, and gently nudge it into the hot water. Use a spoon to nudge the egg whites closer to the yolk, so it cooks closer together and doesn’t get all wispy with egg strands. Turn off the heat and cover the pan for about 4 minutes, until the egg whites are solidly cooked. By the way, I wouldn’t try to poach all 8 of the eggs at once unless you are a real pro. I did mine in a couple batches. When the whites are cooked, use a slotted spoon to fish each egg out of the hot water bath.

            Hopefully by now you’ve found time to split the English muffins and lightly toast them. To arrange each plate, lay down 2 English muffin halves and top each with two asparagus and prosciutto wraps side by side. Next slide a poached egg on top of each of those. Top with a generous dollop of the warm, creamy, tangy hollandaise sauce. And finally, some more chopped parsley and chives and a little dash of paprika and pepper for a garnish. Viola! A magnificent take on a spring easter brunch. Yum.

            Serve the prosciutto wrapped asparagus eggs benedict with some roasted rosemary homefries, some baby greens, and maybe a simple fruit salad. Perfection! Nice work everyone. I hope you enjoy your easter celebration, if that is your thing, or otherwise find time to celebrate the season with friends, family, and of course great food.

            I’d love to hear what recipes you associate with spring. Send me any questions or comments to isaac@kohoradio.com. Cooking local in the KOHO Kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner.

 

 
 

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