THE ART OF ITALIAN DINING
Beautiful summer-like days in Venice Beach. Did we finish with the ‘winter’ already? Maybe.
Asparagi alla Milanese. I love this brunch, it feels like a brunch that should be eaten when the sun is shining and the sap is rising on a day like yesterday or today. It is scrumptious. Perhaps because there is butter involved as well as Parmesan…
Like everyday, today It’s a day full of promise. I just went for coffee, walked by the beach breathing the ocean air and dreaming of one day sailing away. I love sailing and the ocean is the only thing in life that rests my mind. See, when you are on the ocean It is only you, the wind, the water, the sun. Nothing else. Only you an your senses.
The beautiful weather has put me in the mood for a spring clean of my house. It is absolutely chaotic. Mind you, I could put it off yet again by taking the advice a cab driver gave to Woody Harrelson about chaos being linked to creativity. He said something about if you lose 1% of your chaos, you lose your creativity. So maybe I should do less than 1% of the tidying up.
Heading back to Phoenix tomorrow as I am recording for a new show on a new network. The synergy between the host of the show and the guest takes time to build up and make it look ‘natural’ on TV, so I will see how it feels but I am sure it will be fun.
Back to the food. This Asparagi alla milanese, or Milanese-style asparagus, might just be the best known asparagus dish in the Italian repertoire. True to its Northern roots, it features butter and cheese, whose sweetness is the perfect offset to the somewhat astringent, slightly grassy taste of asparagus. A ‘sunny side up’ fried egg completes the dish. When eating, I like to break the egg yolk and allow it to run over the asparagus, making sure that each bit of asparagus I bite into has ample butter and cheese and egg yolk… Dietetic it’s not, but it’s awfully good!
Although actually rather simple to make, if you ask me, this dish is too impressive to be relegated to side dish status. But, otherwise, it is very versatile: It makes for an elegant Springtimeantipasto, and it works as an unusual primo, when you don’t feel like a starch. It can even do service as a quasi-vegetarian secondo. And it makes a fine light supper all by itself, with some crusty bread and a piece of fruit for dessert.
In fact, that’s what I had for dinner last night.
Our guests at the last CULINARY MISCHiEF loved this preparation and raved about it. So, since Italians are very generous people…here you can find the recipe for this impressively easy dish. As always, secrets to Italian cooking is the high quality of the few ingredients required in the recipe.
Add a fried duck egg and you will be in heaven. Those squeaking birds know how to make a good one.
ASPARAGI ALLA MILANESE
Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon salt. Set up an ice bath nearby. Blanch the asparagus spears in the boiling water for 1 minute and 30 seconds, then remove and immediately refresh in the ice bath. Once cooled, remove the asparagus from the ice bath with tongs and drain slightly. Set aside.
In a 12 to 14-inch saute pan, heat 3 tablespoons of butter over high heat. Add the asparagus and toss in thebutter over high heat for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper, then divide evenly among 4 warmed dinner platters.
In a separate pan sauté the cubed pancetta until dark and crispy. Remove the cubes and add the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter, and heat over medium-high heat. Crack the eggs into the pan, taking care to keep the yolks intact. Cook the eggs sunny-side up until the whites are firm but the yolk is still runny. Season each egg with salt and pepper, the carefully slide 1 egg onto each serving. Grate the cheese over each plate, season with a squeeze of lemon juice and salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
NOTES: Asparagus comes in several varieties. Leaving aside white asparagus, which is wonderful but perhaps not ideal for this particular dish, the basic choice is between young, thin asparagus and the older, thicker kind. Either kind needs to be trimmed of the rather woody base: just line them up on your cutting board and cut off the bottoms, about where they begin to lose their green color. Thin asparagus (which I personally prefer) needs no more preparation. Older asparagus develops a tough skin, which should be peeled off. If in doubt, bite a bit of one of the stalks to see whether the skin is noticeably tough; if so, peel.
The only slightly tricky part about cooking asparagus is that being essentially shoots, they have very think, tender tips (with very delicate buds on them), which need hardly any cooking at all, and rather thicker bases, which need a bit more time to cook until tender. The older the asparagus, the greater the difference between tip and base.
To get around this problem, you can buy an asparagus cooker, which is a tall, narrow lidded pot with a basket insert, which holds the asparagus stalks together upright and allows you to remove them easily. Water is put into the bottom of the cooker, just enough so that the thicker stalks are immersed in boiling water while the delicate tips simply steam.