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(post, Robert Reynolds)
When I’m in Provence my friend’s mother prepares fat white asparagus and arranges a generous amount of them on a large platter. One time when she set them on the table, I put some on my plate and said, “Since I’m in Provence, I would like olive oil for my asparagus, please.” Her daughter, who is my good friend, reached to the center of the table where three bottles of local olive oil rested. But before she could ask which olive oil I wanted, I beat her to it, “I want the one from Nyons.” I knew it was her mother’s favorite. Her smile revealed how the intimacy of small gestures repeated over years of being together heightens emotions. “I’d also like the salt mill, please.” In the same season in Paris the asparagus I ate cost 18 euros in a restaurant, as much as the foie gras. I added a third to that price in dollars to have an idea of how valued they are. I also dined with friends at home on the Atlantic coast of France where we ate asparagus because when they are in season they are celebrated. The French mostly eat white asparagus that they peel and then cook in a shallow pan at a slow boil until tender. When my friend Jacqueline prepared them, she arranged a large white tea towel on a platter and carefully aligned the asparagus. Since they were precious she made Sauce Mousseline using an egg yolk to make a mayonnaise that she later lightened with the egg white whipped to soft peak. The delicious and elegant sauce, only made once a year, complemented the simple asparagus perfectly. In Provence they poured a white Chateauneuf du Pape from Beaucastel. In Paris, I ordered an Alsatian Riesling. In the west of France, they served a white Bordeaux. SAUCE MOUSSELINE 2 teaspoons lemon juice ½ teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 1 egg yolk (reserve white) ¾ cup flavorless oil (peanut, sunflower, etc.) 1 egg white, whipped to soft peak Whip the egg white with a pinch of salt, keep on reserve. Put the lemon juice, salt and mustard in a medium bowl. Using a hand mixer, whip homogenous. With the machine running, slowly add the oil, incorporating the oil completely, to retain an emulsion. Fold the egg white into the mayonnaise with a spatula. Serve the sauce with blanched asparagus.