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The many possibilites of asparagus

Posted in Food & Entertaining

asparagus with fried eggThe days are suddenly longer and waking up in the morning, the light still grey and unwelcoming, is a chore. In exactly a week we will open up to Spring, at least in our Northern hemisphere.

I am marking the transition by driving to Arizona, where maybe the desert will be starting to bloom. The temperature will be balmy and there will be hikes, reading, swimming and a lot of nothing much for a few days.

Last weekend the market was already more colorful: if fruit is still limited, the vegetable piles are turning interesting again and I came home with a bunch of asparagus, the stalks medium-sized, the tips fat and dark green, the possibilities endless.

My first go-to for asparagus is always risotto, because I am Italian after all and because risotto is one of those dishes that cannot be easily replicated by a restaurant, unless the menu clearly states there will be a 20 minute wait if ordering it. Most restaurant kitchen can’t afford to be bogged down every time a customer orders risotto, so the rice is usually par-cooked before service, kept spread on a sheet pan and the risotto finished to order. Unfortunately, by so doing, one loses the creaminess stemming from the starch slowly being released as the rice gently cooks. To compensate this loss, most restaurants will finish the dish with cream, anathema to any Italian.

Risotto is not a complicated dish and the first one I ever learnt – I love making it for guests. I will have some simple appetizers ready and some wine and drinks available, and will gather everybody in the kitchen to munch and drink while I stand at the stove stirring. Twenty minutes go by pleasantly and the variations are plentiful: besides asparagus, all kinds of vegetables can be thrown in as well as seafood or the Milanese specialty, saffron. sofagirl posted a reliable and easy recipe you can find at the bottom of this post.

risotto

On days my mother didn’t feel like cooking, one of her favourite quick dishes was asparagus with fried eggs. Most Americans, including my family, think this is really weird but how much different is it than steamed asparagus served with a sauce made of olive oil, mustard and boiled eggs? Steam the asparagus to retain some crunch, especially at the top, and serve them alongside a couple of fried eggs per person, with the yolks still a bit soft, to better dunk the tips in. I promise you the combination of egg yolks and asparagus is heavenly.

I also love to deep fry the tips tempura style, by making a light batter of flour, sparkling water and a sprinkle of salt. Heat a few inches of neutral oil in a small pot and, when it’s very hot, dip the asparagus in the batter, shake it to get rid of the excess coating, and drop them in the oil until golden brown. Drain on a plate covered in paper towels. It’s a lovely appetizer.

Although most people eat the entire asparagus, I am not a big fan of the thickest part of the stalks which I usually chop off and refrigerate or freeze for later use in some vegetable stock. I routinely collect veggie scraps: carrot peels, celery stalks or any stalks – they all end up in a pot with some onion where I let them simmer until I have some flavorful stock. Which, especially if you are vegetarian, will be there at the ready next time you are in the mood for risotto.

Spring risotto with peas, courgettes and asparagus

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17 Comments

  1. Oh yes – asparagus with poached egg, Parmesan shavings and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar! so delicious, as is asparagus risotto. I also love plain fat spears of asparagus, steamed and served with proper hollandaise sauce….yum! Two days ago, here in Beijing I was served a dish of asparagus (cut into short lengths) stir-fried with white walnuts – fantastic! Of course at this time of year the asparagus is all from Peru, but jolly good none-the-less.

    March 19, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      mmm, with white walnuts. Sounds so delicious. I love reading you stories about food in China, where it comes from, how you shop. Asparagus from Peru. I never thought about where China would source out of season fruit and vegetables.

      March 21, 2016
      |Reply
  2. Very nice those asparagi alla milanese. Although in the photo they do seem hardly cooked at all. I like the combination as well, also with poached eggs. I don’t care much for the tough stems either, but a strong blender (Vitamix) can turn them into puree for risotto. You are so right that risotto in restaurants usually isn’t the real thing — not even in Italy!

    March 17, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Isn’t is sad? In some old-fashioned restaurants you can still find it on the menu (especially in Milan) with the line next to it “richiede 20 minuti” but it is fast disappearing. And you know me and undercooked vegetables….I love them with poached eggs too but they are somewhat easier to find here in the States. Fried eggs, on the other hand, still raise eyebrows.

      March 17, 2016
      |Reply
      • I have never seen “richiede 20 minuti” in Italy. And even in restaurants with three Michelin stars I was suspicious about the risotto. I would really like to try it in a proper restaurant, as I’d like to see how it compares to risotto when I make it. So I guess for the first time I have found a good reason to visit Milano 😉

        March 17, 2016
        |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      You really have to try risotto all milanese in Milan! Lo fanno con lo zafferano e il midollo di bue. Un’altra specialita’ che non troverai da nessuna altra parte sono i nervetti di bue (che a me fanno venire i brividi). Ci sono dei ristoranti meravigliosi e sarai sorpreso da quanto e’ bella la città – non come il resto dell’Italia: e’ molto austro-ungarica.

      March 17, 2016
      |Reply
      • Interessante — tutti mi raccontano sempre che Milano sia una città sporca e bruttissima. La prossima volta che sono in Nord Italia da sicuro cercherò un ristorante dove si fanno il risotto con 20 minuti da aspettare. Forse a Milano…

        March 28, 2016
        |Reply
  3. I love asparagus with fried eggs!! Do not know why everyone doesn’t. 😀

    March 17, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Here they look at me as I am mad – maybe because fried eggs are still very associated with breakfast.

      March 17, 2016
      |Reply
      • They know no better.

        March 17, 2016
        |Reply
  4. silvia
    silvia

    This is your Spring my love. Enjoy it as much as you can

    March 17, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I am busy doing just that. Writing this as I look out to Saguaro cacti and the desert.

      March 17, 2016
      |Reply
  5. One of my favorite dishes. I agree with you that risotto is really not that difficult to make at home. It just takes a little patience, but it’s so worth it!

    Buon viaggio in Arizona.

    March 17, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Grazie! No risotto to be found here in Arizona by the way.

      March 17, 2016
      |Reply

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