During college, I spent my summers farming with my wife’s grandfather – her “Papa” – on his organic produce farm. Every evening, weary, sore, and satisfied from a true hard day’s work, we were rewarded with Nana’s sublime suppers.
Nana was a farm cook. She did not study cooking magazines in search of new and exotic recipes from far-away lands or experiment with different preparations (if it was too weird, Papa wouldn’t eat it anyway). Her cooking was pragmatic. Every night, Nana’s objective was simply to feed her family a nutritious meal as economically as possible, taking full advantage of what the garden had to offer.
As each vegetable crop came into season, Nana’s menus evolved to embrace the new arrival. My experience of spring and summer soon came to be defined by tender lima beans, deep red tomatoes, and the best damn sweet corn in the Midwest. But nothing compared to the quiet celebration inspired by spring’s first shoots of asparagus, which we ate every evening throughout its short growing season.
Creamed asparagus over toast was one of Papa’s favorite dishes. Needless to say, Nana cooked it as many times as possible during that brief window.
Unlike Nana, I do read cooking magazines and like seeking out interesting new ways to prepare things. Though preparing a nutritious meal is important, I’m also seeking sensory stimulation and excitement. When asparagus season is upon us, I’ll eat it every day, but I like to prepare it many different ways. I never get tired of eating asparagus, precisely because it can be transformed into so many different dishes.
When the first local asparagus hits the market I prepare it simply and let it speak for itself. I snap off the woody ends, brush the spears with olive oil and sear the spears in a large cast iron pan or griddle until nicely browned and nearly charred. A little sprinkle of sea salt is all that is needed to finish the dish. It can be eaten warm or at room temperature.
Eggs and asparagus seem to get along so well together, and I like to pair them together whenever I can. When I fire up the barbeque in the spring, I like to grill asparagus. I snap off the woody ends and salt the spears to make them less rigid, laying five spears side by side and running two presoaked wooden skewers through them to form rafts. I then slather the rafts with mayonnaise, and grill until nicely browned. The mayonnaise enhances the browning and keeps the stalks moist. Preparing rafts with skewers allows for efficient grilling and keeps the spears from falling through the grates. Sprinkle the grilled asparagus with coarse salt, and you have a great stand-alone dish, but you can fancy it up by adding a Polonaise topping.
A frittata is an Italian egg dish that is similar to an omelette or crust-less quiche, and is a great way to enjoy asparagus. It can be served hot or at room temperature, and leftover, it makes a great egg sandwich.
Creamed asparagus over toast
- 1 bunch fresh asparagus
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, halved
- ¼ c. butter
- ¼ tsp. salt
- Pinch black pepper
- 2 slices Wonder bread, toasted and halved
In a large skillet, bring 1 inch of water to a boil. Add the asparagus, cover pan and poach about 3 minutes. A knife should be able to pierce through the stems easily. Remove asparagus from pan and save the cooking liquid.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter and slowly stir in the flour, salt, and pepper to make a smooth roux. Slowly add in the asparagus cooking liquid, return to a boil and stir for about 2 minutes, until thickened. Combine with the asparagus and serve over toast. Top with a hard-boiled egg half.
Polonaise topping for asparagus
- 1 c. dry breadcrumbs
- ¼ c. butter, melted
- 1 T. chopped Italian parsley
- 2 hard boiled eggs, chopped
- Salt to taste
Sauté breadcrumbs in butter until golden. Stir in chopped hard-boiled eggs, chopped parsley, and salt. Spoon topping over cooked asparagus spears.
(If you are in a hurry, just put asparagus on buttered toast and top with a runny fried egg and chopped parsley.)
- 8-10 medium to fat asparagus spears
- Olive oil
- Salt and black pepper
- 4 eggs
- ½ cup chopped chives
- ½ cup finely grated Parmesan
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Cut the tough ends off the asparagus spears, and place them in a single layer on a large sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Drizzle the asparagus with 2 T. of olive oil, and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Bring up the sides of the foil together to enclose the asparagus and crimp the edges to seal, keeping the asparagus in one layer. Put the foil packet on a baking sheet, place in the oven, and roast just until tender. This will take 10-20 minutes depending on your oven and the thickness of the asparagus. Remove from the oven, open the packet, and let the asparagus come to room temperature. This can be done ahead and left at room temperature or the day before and refrigerated overnight.
Lightly beat eggs with salt, pepper, grated Parmesan, and half the chives.
Cut the asparagus into one-inch lengths and place in a single layer in a 10-inch nonstick skillet. Drizzle with more olive oil and place over burner at medium heat. Pour the egg mixture over asparagus and tilt pan until egg mixture is evenly spread.
Cook until nearly set, loosening the edges with a rubber spatula, about 4 minutes. If top is still runny, place pan under broiler until egg mixture sets. What frittata has formed a solid “crust” on top, cover pan with a plate of the same size and turn upside down. Slide the frittata back into pan, bottom side up and finish the cooking.
Turn frittata onto a platter. Garnish with remaining chives.
Frittata can be served hot or at room temperature.
In order to bring to IT readers the latest and greatest food journalism, Peter Glatz will be “embedded” next month in the kitchen of Chicago’s Michelin-starred Elizabeth Restaurant. Chef/owner Iliana Regan was just named to Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs Class of 2016.