On nights alone, one of my favorite meals is pan-steamed asparagus, tossed with Parmigiano Reggiano and a soft-yolk fried egg, a dish I first had in Italy. When broken, the runny egg and cheese combine to make a creamy sauce for the asparagus. The dish is fast, healthful and supremely satisfying; it exemplifies the ingenious simplicity of so much of Italian cooking.
Since it is asparagus season now it seemed like perfect timing to share the recipe which is, in essence, a formula for throwing together a delicious meal when the larder is almost bare. It relies on two long-keeping staples: aged, hard grating cheeses and eggs. If you don’t have asparagus, can be made with just about any cooked vegetable “beds”/bases in your repertoire from simple steamed spinach or kale, to ratatouille, roasted peppers, mashed potatoes; it is made for leftovers, and works curiously well with pasta.
HOT TIP: I’m making it this weekend with the pound of odd-sized asparagus Essex Farm, my CSA, delivered. With just picked asparagus, the stalk is often tender just about to the end, so I don’t snap them off as I do with older or supermarket asparagus. To determine where the tough part of the stem starts, I hold a stalk in both hands and bend until they break and discarding the stem end. In order to cook the asparagus fairly evenly, I divide them roughly into three sizes. I start cooking the fattest ones first, giving them a minute heads start before adding the mediums, and so on to the thinnest.
Recipe/Method: Asparagus with a Fried Egg + Parmigiano-Reggiano
Serves 4; can be scaled up or down indefinitely.
1 large bunch asparagus, about 1 pound
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter or extra-virgin olive oil
4 extra-large eggs, preferably organic
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup grated hard aged cheese such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Manchego, Aged Gouda, Dry Jack, Pecorino Toscano, or a grating goat cheese
1. Prepare the base. Break the tough stems off asparagus and discard. Arrange the asparagus in a large skillet set over high heat; add the salt and water. Cover and steam, rearranging occasionally until crisp-tender and all but 1 tablespoon of the water has evaporated, 5-8 minutes. (Check the vegetables periodically; if the water is evaporating too quickly, add a few more tablespoons. If there is still too much by the time the vegetables are tender, pour it off, holding the vegetables in the pan with the lid). Remove the lid and add 1 teaspoon of the butter or olive oil; toss the asparagus well to coat them. Set aside uncovered.
2. Fry the eggs. Carefully break the eggs into a bowl without breaking the yolks. Heat a 12-inch well-seasoned or nonstick skillet over moderate heat. Add the butter or oil and swirl to coat. Add the eggs, gently nudging the yolks so they are evenly spaced in the pan; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat, cover and cook until the whites are set and the yolks are still runny. When they are done, separate them with a spatula.
3. Assemble the base, cheese and fried eggs. Arrange some of the asparagus on each of 4 dinner plates. Sprinkle each serving with some of the cheese and arrange an egg on top. Spoon a little of the remaining cheese over each egg. Serve at once.