Earth day is the perfect time to celebrate that delicious vegetable that soldiers through the earth once winter had passed and pops its head above ground waiting for us to snap it off for our favorite preparations. I am speaking of the the noble asparagus that graces our tables for such a short time. A member of the cultivated lily family, it is available February-June, depending where you live. The earliest, most tender stalks are a beautiful apple green with purple tinged tips. In my area, asparagus grows wild and you can often see people on the sides of country roads foraging for those valued treasures. Many, though, are content to tend their own patch or purchase it from roadside stands and farmers markets. When buying asparagus, choose firm, bright green stalks with tight tips. The bounty is abundant so I try to eat as much as possible for breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the limited season. It is such a versatile vegetable that it is easy to incorporate into daily meals. My philosophy, which is very Italian, is to keep it simple so the flavor of the food shines.
One of my favorite pairings is with eggs. You can do that in so many ways I cannot even begin to describe them all. Seriously, think omelet, scrambled, quiche, frittata and even soft cooked. I love the soft cooked preparation as they can be served in those adorable little cups, in their own shell using the asparagus as a little utensile to scoop up the golden deliciousness.
Here is how you do it.
Soft Cooked Eggs w/ Asparagus & Bacon
4 individual servings
4 spears fresh asparagus
4 eggs, farm fresh is best
4 slices of bacon, cooked until crisp but not too brown, cut piece in half crosswise and the in half again lengthwise (optional)
Start by snapping the end of the asparagus spears. They will naturally snap exactly where the woody end starts. If you do not like the jagged edge, you can trim it slightly with a knife. Steam them until they are crisp tender, 3-4 minutes. Do not over cook as they will get mushy. Drop into an ice water bath to stop the cooking and set the bright green color. Cut the spears so the tip end is long enough to place into the egg but still has enough of the spear to allow for easy handling. Save the remainder of the spear to serve on the side for extra dipping. Set aside.
Use a push pin or thumbtack to make a small hole in the rounder end of each egg. Gently lower the eggs, one by one into boiling water ( I use a slotted spoon). Reduce the heat and cook for 3-4 minutes at a very low boil. Let me just say here that the length of time is a personal thing. I have heard chefs say everything from 2 1/2 – 6minutes. My favorite is 3 1/2 – 4 minutes but you choose depending how set you like it. Remove from the heat. You can rinse quickly in cold water to make for easier handling.
Remove the narrow end of the egg using a sharp knife, cracking around the top and them cutting it off, or egg scissors (refer to my post “What Came First”). Place egg in an egg cup, shot glass or anything that will help it stay upright. Serve with the asparagus and a piece of bacon placed directly into the yolk as pictured. Place the remaining asparagus and bacon pieces on the side for extra dipping. You do not want to miss a bite.
For lunch you can add asparagus to almost any sandwich, use it as a topper for soups or toss it in salads. You are only limited by your imagination. I would love to hear your creative ideas.
As a simple side it is a dinner favorite. Again you steam it for 3-4 minutes until crisp tender. Place on a plate, drizzle with your favorite good quality extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with flaked sea salt. I like to garnish with Parmigiano-Reggiano and if available, edible flowers such as these colorful violas. Other topping suggestions are sliced hard cooked eggs, drizzle of balsamic vinegar or hollandaise sauce if you crave classic and are willing to go to the extra trouble.
I like to cook my asparagus the day it is picked or puchased but it can be stored standing upright in about an inch or so of water or tightly wrapped in plastic for 3-4 days. Remember though, fresh is best!