The Loire Valley, with its temperate climate and sandy soil, is a paradise for fine vegetables. When they reach the kitchen they are often combined, for example the green peas, lettuce and scallions in Petits Pois à la Française, or this appealing dish of asparagus and mushrooms flavored with tarragon, great as a first course or accompaniment to roast chicken or a luxury meat such as veal. This recipe does not take long and is best prepared just before serving.

Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 large bunch of tarragon (about 1 ounce/30 grams)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 pounds/900 grams green asparagus
  • 3 tablespoons/45 grams/1 1/2 ounces butter
  • 4 ounces/110 grams button mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons/22 grams/3/4 ounce flour
  • 1/2 cup/125 ml crème fraîche or heavy cream
  • Grated nutmeg
  • Thin string for tying

Pull the tarragon leaves from the stems and chop the leaves. Add stems to a large shallow pan of lightly salted water (do not oversalt as the water will be used for sauce) and bring it to a boil. Peel stems of the asparagus and divide them in 4 to 6 bundles. Gather up each bundle, so the tips are lined up evenly, holding them vertically, heads down. Tie them in a bundle using two loops of string to hold them in place. Trim the cut ends level. Immerse the bundles in the boiling water and simmer until the asparagus is just tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain in a colander, setting aside the cooking liquid. Rinse the asparagus bundles briefly with cold water to stop cooking, and leave them to drain, covered with aluminum foil to keep warm.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, add the mushrooms with the lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Press a piece of foil on top, cover, and cook over medium heat until the mushrooms are tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Uncover, add the shallots and cook, stirring, until any liquid has evaporated. Meanwhile, measure 1 cup/250 milliliters/8 fluid ounces of cooking liquid. Stir the flour into the mushrooms, followed by the measured cooking liquid. Bring this sauce to a boil, whisking constantly until it thickens lightly. Add the crème fraîche and bring just back to a boil. Take from the heat, add the chopped tarragon with a little nutmeg, taste and adjust seasoning. Transfer the asparagus bundles to warm plates, discard strings and spoon the sauce over the center, leaving stems and tips uncovered. Serve at once.

photo by France Ruffenach
by Anne Willan, Chronicle Books, 2007.