When Herr and Fran Hofrat arrived, followed closely by the Excellenz with her daughter, they all retired to a summer house with Herr Ober and the menus. Herr Hofrat and the Hofrätin agreed at once, since they had discussed the matter in great detail all the way out from Vienna, that one of them would choose chicken and the other would choose beef. They would both take a new Vorspeise, or first course, which would widen both their horizons doubly, and, since they always chose opposite desserts, there was no question but that they could look forward to a good luncheon experience, that is, provided someone else had ordered a nice salad and a fresh green vegetable—for instance, asparagus.
Excellenz was a character, she could not be swayed, but everyone approved her choice of Ente, as it would add to all their luncheons to have just a fillip of dark duck and a little piece of apple stuffing. Her daughter's choice was made for her. Everyone warted to try the liver pudding without having to have a lot of it; and since they all wanted to taste the mushrooms, they agreed that both were excellent for Backfische, girls of sixteen who might still be growing. “Mädi wants champignons,” said the Excellenz firmly, over the head of her surprised daughter, who really wanted a great novelty she had discovered on the menu, an exotic specially called Irish stew.
Herr Ober, himself a Viennese, was entirely experienced in the raids and attacks the guests would make on one another's plates. But he was not prepared for the gusto with which they all pounced on the asparagus. A bus boy sent to the kitchen returned with the message that there was no more asparagus at the very moment when Herr Baron had one stalk left, while Frau Baronin, whose guests had helped themselves crosswise and not lengthwise, was left with nine white stumps of asparagus on her plate.
The sun set over Vienna, and the guests, who among them had eaten twenty-four different dishes, prepared to start on their way back to the city. Uncle Otto was the last person to say goodbye. He thanked his nephew with unusual warmth. “You see,” he said, “I simply love asparagus.”
Spargel (Steamed Asparagus)
Steam 2 pounds asparagus, cleaned and trimmed, in an asparagus steamer, with 2 cups salted water. If a steamer is not available, tie the asparagus into a tight bunch and stand it in 2 inches of boiling salted water in the lower section of a small double boiler. Invert the top of the double boiler over the asparagus heads, completely enclosing them. Do not lift the top again, or the steam will dispense. Steam young stalks 12 to 20 minutes; older stalks may require up to 30 minutes. Steamed in this way, the asparagus should be very green and crisp. If it is steamed too long, it becomes dark in color and too soft.
Schinken Spargel (Ham and Asparagus)
Cream 4 tablespoons butter and with it just barely bind 1/2 pound Westphalian ham, sliced and cut into 1/4 inch squares. Pile the mixture high on six 3-inch rounds of white bread that have been toasted and buttered. You may also use Italian prosciutto. In that case do not mix ham and butter but spread 1 tablespoon creamed butter on each toast round, mounding it toward the center. Dip the buttered side of the rounds into the chopped prosciutto. It will cling in a light mound; the Westphalian ham will look more like a solid paste.
Arrange 2 pounds hot cooked asparagus on a serving platter and surround it with the ham rounds. Sauté 1 1/2 cups dry bread crumbs in 1/4 pound butter till they are golden and pour the brown crumbs over the asparagus heads. Quickly grate the rind of 1 orange over the crumbs and serve. Pass more brown butter in a sauceboat.
Lachs Spargel (Smoked Salmon and Asparagus)
Chop 6 slices smoked salmon. Toast six 3-inch rounds of white bread and spread 1 tablespoon creamed butter on each round. Mound the chopped salmon on the buttered rounds.
Arrange 2 pounds hot cooked asparagus on a serving platter and surround it with the salmon rounds. Sauté 1 1/2 Cups dry bread crumbs in 1/4 pound butter until they are golden and pour the brown crumbs over the asparagus heads. Quickly grate the rind of 1 lemon over the crumbs and serve. Pass more brown butter in a sauceboat.
Spargel mit Seezunge (Sole and Asparagus)
Simmer 4 pounds filets of sole in white wine to cover, with 1/2 teaspoon salt to 2 cups wine, until they are opaque, about 8 to 10 minutes. Reserve 5 tablespoons of the broth. Lift the filets carefully onto a heatproof platter and keep them warm. Cook two 1-pound lobsters in salted water for 15 minutes and keep them warm.
Melt 4 tablespoons butter, blend in 2 tablespoons flour over low heat, and cook the roux, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add 1 cup cream and 1/2 cup white veal stock and cook, stirring constantly, for 6 minutes. Add 5 tablespoons of the white wine in which the sole was cooked, 1/4 cup Sherry, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce over the filets and bake them in a moderate oven (350° F.) for 5 minutes.
Remove the lobster claw and tail meat and garnish the ends of the platter with it. Surround the entire platter with warm crescents of puff paste (June, 1958), made with a dusting of salt and grated Parmesan at the last “turn.” Short pie pastry may be substituted for the puff paste.
Drain 2 pounds hot cooked asparagus well. Lay half the stalks diagonally, an inch apart, across the dish and then lay the remaining stalks in the other direction, making a diamond-shaped latticework of green asparagus over the white fish sauce. Garnish the platter with parsley and serve at once.