The seasonal flavors of ‘Downton Abbey’

Mitch Mariani

Truffled Egg on Toast, Oysters a la Russe, Lobster Rissoles in Mousseline Sauce and Cavados Glazed Duckling. For those of us in the United States who saw last Sunday’s episode of “Downton Abbey” on PBS, these items sound very familiar from a meal scene featuring the downstairs staff.

There is, however, one particular dish featured in the scene that I did not mention. As complex as the others sound, the recipe for Asparagus Salad with Champagne Saffron Vinaigrette is simple and delicious.

I find it amusing that when it comes to food featured in a story, my sister and I take a particular interest in it.  So, it was no surprise that after watching this episode of “Downton Abbey,” the inception of our discussion started with both of us in unison saying, “Asparagus Salad with Champaign Saffron Vinaigrette.” We are familiar with saffron in soups, stew and rice dishes, but its use in vinaigrette had us particularly intrigued! I knew I had to research this a little further and then share it in my column.

Luckily, not much research was necessary. My first Internet search led me to find out that the asparagus dish was served during the final dinner on the Titanic. Coincidentally, the sinking of the Titanic is the historic moment at the start of the “Downton Abbey” series. So, I decided to add the show name to my search and felt as if I had struck gold. I came across a blog site written by Pamela Foster called DowntonAbbeyCooks.com. She possesses a degree in history and has a love of all things food. It also turns out she wrote a cookbook called “Abbey Cooks Entertain,” which is only available for download at this time. She mentions asparagus in her blog and in her cookbook.

Asparagus season is right around the corner, so this is one recipe to cut out and hold onto while you wait for prices to come down a little. After all, cooking out of season is something that is more of a modern idea. The character of the head cook at “Downton Abbey,” Mrs. Patmore, would not have dreamed of doing anything but seasonal cooking. Be warned that the Champagne vinegar may be a little harder to come by unless you shop at a well-stocked grocery store or patronize a gourmet food shop. Use of regular wine vinegar is an acceptable substitute. Also, while the asparagus is very good the day it is made, overnight in the refrigerator helps enhance its flavor.

Asparagus Salad with Champagne Saffron Vinaigrette (From “Abbey Cooks Entertain” by Pamela Foster), Serves 4

Ingredients

• 1 1/2 Pounds Asparagus (select thin over thick stalks)

• 1/4 Teaspoon Saffron Threads

• 1 1/2 Tablespoon Champagne Vinegar or White Wine Vinegar

• 1/2 Teaspoon Dijon-Style Mustard

• Pinch of sugar

• 3 Tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

• Salt and Pepper to Taste

• 1/2 Sweet Red or Yellow Pepper, diced

• Greens for Garnish

Step 1: Holding the asparagus halfway up the stalk, snap off the woody ends at a natural breaking point and discard.

Step 2: In a wide, deep skillet or large pot of boiling salted water, cook the asparagus spears three to five minutes or until they are tender but not limp.

Step 3: Drain and run spears under cold water until completely cooled. Drain well and set aside.

Step 4: In a large bowl, stir the saffron into the teaspoon of boiling water. Let it stand for two minutes or until it is softened.

Step 5: Stir in the champagne vinegar, mustard and sugar. Whisk in the olive oil. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste.

Step 6: Add the asparagus and diced pepper; toss gently to coat with the vinaigrette.

Step 7: Line a platter with salad greens and arrange the asparagus mixture on top.

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