Devastating tornados in the south, royal weddings, the state of the world is as complicated as always, and my poor little mind just doesn’t always feel like it can process all of it. So, at the risk of seeming out of touch, I’m trying just to concentrate on what’s right here, right now, and that is flowering trees. Flowering trees are the best part of spring. Hands down. The best. Don’t you think? (Maybe you actually don’t thinks so, but humor me for the moment.) The supple, soft velvet of their perfect petals shimmer so lightly as breezes waft through and pick up their perfume. The colors are delicate and diaphanous, as if they had been chosen by a young girl in love with the Impressionists. And there is simply nothing more giddily romantic than standing under a blossoming cherry or crab apple tree, gazing through the branches as petals flutter down around you and the occasional robin cocks his head at you curiously.
The second best part of the spring is slightly harder to determine. It may be the dandelions sprouting up everywhere (I know it’s weird, but I just love dandelions). But, I think it’s more likely that it is asparagus. Asparagus is so delicious and so ephemeral, around about this time of year my hoarding nature kicks in and I find myself buying bundle after bundle of the slender spiky stalks and eating them practically three meals a day. Frankly I’m a little surprised I haven’t started getting up in the middle of the night to fix myself a midnight asparagus snack, just so I can fit in one more plateful each day before the season is over. Haven’t started yet, that is.
And, did you know that the asparagus is actually a variety of lily plant? I just learned that this week. (Unfortunately, I mislearned it for the first half of the week and went around telling people that asparagus was a type of iris – I use this sort of thing as a conversation filler, you see – and then would explain my fun fact about irises. Which is, that back in the day, the Japanese emperor was allowed to declare what types of flowers the people were or were not allowed to grow in their gardens, and one emperor issued a decree banning irises from gardens. But, the clever people subverted him by growing the flowers on their rooftops instead. Interesting, right?! So, now you know. Even though this turns out to be not at all related to the issue at hand, which – I think – is still asparagus.)
I’m in the camp that prefers either to roast or sautee asparagus, blasting it briefly with high heat to render the outside lightly browned while the insides remain crisp-tender. I think the flavor in the asparagus is nicest this way, but that’s just my opinion. You can prefer blanched asparagus if you must. However, I also find it minimizes the potential for damage done in the case of accidental overcooking. A slightly overcooked sauteed asparagus spear is slightly mushy but encased in a buttery, caramelized sheath. An overcooked blanched (or steamed) asparagus is just a flaccid vegetal mess.
Now, I’m perfectly happy munching down shafts of asparagus from tip to tail with nothing more than a sprinkling of salt as embellishment. But, asparagus is not really a loner by nature and pairs quite nicely with all sorts of other foods from pastas to risottos. One of its favorite playmates is the egg. Poached, fried, in a quiche, scrambled, the two were practically made for each other. It’s almost too simple to be a recipe, but try this. Take a handful of fresh asparagus and give it a quick sautee. Then, heap a pile of creamy scrambled eggs – brightened with a pinch of lemon zest – on top. A sprinkling of Prosciutto bits or Parmesan adds a salty punctuation mark to complete the thought. Add a piece of toast and you’ll find that you have a perfect breakfast. Or lunch, or dinner, for that matter. Easy but elegant, light yet sumptuous. This is spring at its best. (Ooh, especially if you go eat it under a flowering tree.)
Scrambled eggs and asparagus (serves 2)
- 2-4 pieces of toast (keep warm)
- about 12-16 stalks of asparagus
- 1 1/2 Tbs. butter or olive oil, divided
- salt and pepper
- 4 eggs
- 2 Tbs. of creme fraiche – or milk or cream
- the zest of half a lemon
- one slice of prosciutto or ham, cut into small pieces (optional)
- Wash the asparagus stalks and snap off the bottom ends. If you grab each stalk at the tip and the bottom and give the bottom a quick downward twist, it should break right off removing all of the tough stemmy part of the asparagus.
- Heat 1 Tbs. of butter or olive oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat, then add the asparagus in a single layer and stir to coat. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally for 4 minutes.
- In the meantime, whisk the eggs with the creme fraiche or milk, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt and pepper. When the asparagus is done, turn off the heat but leave it sitting in the pan to stay warm. Heat the remaining butter/olive oil in another small frying pan over medium-low heat. Pour in the eggs and cook, using a spatula to carefully scrape up cooked egg from the bottom and drain the runny uncooked egg off the top of it into the pan. Set the cooked bit back on top of the uncooked egg that you just poured off of it. Continue doing this until the egg looks almost completely cooked through. Remove from the heat before it looks completely set, this should only take a minute or two.
- Divide the asparagus between two plates and mound the eggs on top. Sprinkle with the Prosciutto and/or Parmesan cheese if desired. Accompany with toast for eating. Isn’t this a nice way to start the day?!