Asparagi Alla Milanese (Asparagus Milanese)

…my greatest pleasure was the asparagus, bathed in ultramarine and pink and whose spears, delicately brushed in mauve and azure, fade imperceptibly to the base of the stalk—still soiled with the earth of their bed—through iridescences that are not of this world.
~Marcel Proust

Given its varied faces and hues along with year round availability, asparagus is likely the most beloved green at our table. Whether steamed, boiled, sauteed, grilled or roasted, asparagus are finger food heaven and survive swimingly solo but also marry well with herbs, nuts, cheeses, eggs, pastas, pizzas, risottosvinaigrettes and sauces, e.g.,  hollandaise.  Unless necessary do not dare deign to use a fork or knife with these darlings.  During the season, the French often simply fold luscious spears in a white cloth napkin and do not even formally plate them.

Asparagus officinalis is a perennial flowering plant species from the lily family. These delicate spears were cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, and a recipe even appears in one of the oldest surviving cookbooks, Apicius’s De re coquinaria (3rd century CE).  Asparagus shoots evolve into stalks several feet high, sometimes growing 6″ to 10″ in a single day. Nearly half of the world’s asparagus is harvested white, which is accomplished by covering the spears from light, thus inhibiting chlorophyll production.  Some claim that this produces a more delicate and sweet version, but is also more fibrous, usually requiring peeling before cooking.  In France, white usually trumps green.  A portion of each green or white asparagus spear’s bottom end is inedible, so simply bend a stalk until it naturally snaps and then cut the remainder to match.  Then discard the woody ends.

Asparagus is seductively low in calories and sodium, and contains no fat or cholesterol while remaining a hearty source of folic acid, potassium, dietary fiber, and rutin.  In season is the way to play — the fetching bounties of spring and asparagus still abide, so take advantage.

ASPARAGI ALLA MILANESE (ASPARAGUS MILANESE)

Cold water
Sea salt
Medium asparagus spears, tough ends trimmed off

Unsalted butter
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large, farm fresh eggs

Parmigiano-reggiano, grated
Lemon zest

Bring a large pot with cold water to a boil. Add the sea salt and then asparagus and cook until crisp, about 4 minutes. Drain and divide the spears evenly among smaller plates or platters. Tent loosely with foil.

Heat a heavy, large non-stick skillet over medium. Heat butter and a splash of olive oil until just lightly shimmering. But, please do not burn or brown the butter. While the fat melts, crack eggs into a glass cup or saucer then slide them into the shimmering oil. Cover with a clear domed lid and adjust the heat so that the white begins to set. Begin spooning the heated fats over the eggs until the runny whites turn opaque and the yolks begin to set ever so slightly, but remain rather runny. (The white no longer clear and the yolk still loose.) Remove to a plate by simply sliding them out of the pan or use a slotted spatula. Place the egg over the bottom half of the cooked asparagus spears, and then season with salt and pepper to your liking.

Grate parmigiano-reggiano over each serving, along with some lemon zest. Serve promptly. (It is nearly peerless when that orange yolk quietly oozes onto the eagerly awaiting grassy flavored spears.)

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