Before it was swallowed up by the spreading suburbs of Paris, Argenteuil was known for being a good place for messing about in boats, knocking together the occasional Impressionist painting and growing asparagus. At that time pretty much any French dish that used asparagus tended to get the word ‘Argenteuil’ nailed on to it.
Argenteuil was best known for its white asparagus but this dish uses green. To be honest it's a slightly alarming green at first sight, but please don't be put off. This recipe seems to turn up in books in some form or another but very rarely in real life. I can't remember ever seeing it on a modern restaurant menu and I've never met anyone else who makes it. That's a shame because it might seem a little eccentric (and green) but it's also pretty easy to make and tastes delicious, especially if you love asparagus anywhere near as much as I do.
You might come across some versions of this recipe that are much richer but this is my slightly more restrained effort for these slightly more restrained times. This will serve 2.
300 g (trimmed weight) green asparagus
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
350 g (approximately) lamb neck fillet
½ glass white wine
2 tbsp crème fraîche
Wash the asparagus and discard any woody ends. Cook the asparagus in gently boiling water until tender - this will take around 6 - 10 minutes depending on the size and freshness of the asparagus. Remove and drain the asparagus but don't discard the cooking water.
Trim any excess fat from the lamb, slice into 2 - 3 cm pieces and season lightly. Fry the shallots gently in a little oil and butter until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and continue frying gently for a few minutes. Add the lamb, increase the heat and fry until it takes on a little colour.
Pour in the wine and allow it to reduce until only a very small amount remains. Pour in around 250 ml of the reserved asparagus cooking water - you don’t need too much liquid, it shouldn't completely cover the lamb. Partly cover the pan and bring to a simmer. Continue simmering gently for 60 - 90 minutes until the lamb is tender. The liquid in the pan should reduce during cooking but add more of the cooking liquid if it's in danger of drying out.
Cut off some or all of the tips of the asparagus to use for decoration, put the remainder in a food processor and reduce to a thick, smooth purée. You may need to add a little of the cooking water if the asparagus seems too dry to form a genuinely smooth purée.
By the time the lamb is tender the liquid in the pan should ideally have reduced to something like a coating consistency. If there seems to be too much liquid, remove the lid and allow it to reduce a little more. Stir in the asparagus purée and the crème fraîche. Allow the mixture to heat through. Taste, adjust the seasoning and add a squeeze of lemon juice if you think it needs it.
Gently reheat the asparagus tips and use them to decorate the plates when serving. Some simply steamed or boiled new potatoes will do very nicely alongside.