It’s kind of a relief being this deep into asparagus season and feeling free to cook with the vegetable instead of just following the peel-blanch-dip drill. No one in my household actually tires of it. But, after many meals with simple blanched spears as the main event, we do reach the saturation point. (My post about this spring’s honeymoon period can be read here: The age of asparagus. I also found I wasn’t alone.)
This year I was especially anxious for this moment to finally arrive, because of a dish mag Senior Editor Chris Christensen mentioned her Sicilian grandmothers cooked in spring: Roasted asparagus tossed with spaghetti, butter and olive oil, a little of the pasta cooking water, and pecorino Romano, topped with a runny-yolked egg. I’m sure you instantly apprehend why I’ve had this on my mind.
Well, last night turned out to be the night. Fresh, crisp, truly excellent asparagus was conveniently procured from Manassero Farms’ Irvine stand (the Manassero family also maintains farm stands in Brea, Cerritos, and Tustin). My husband contributed his signature perfect poached eggs, and the 19-year-old was tasked with a classic dish from another Italian island, a nice Caprese salad. (No pecorino on hand, unfortunately; I used Parmigiano-Reggiano.)
A dish worth waiting for, if only because it’s one of the best dishes EVER. There is a chance of a new semi-problem, going on a jag with this dish to the exclusion of other asparagus preparations. The second stage of asparagus season, I guess. We’ll see if there’s a third stage.
Sicilian Spring Pasta with Asparagus and Egg
(Makes 4 to 5 servings)
Sicilians’ cheese of choice is the salty/tangy pecorino Romano, which, personally, makes this dish, in the way that Parm-Reg is the classic marriage with favas. I sprinkle it liberally over the dish, sometimes a couple of times. Same with olive oil… use it liberally—the good stuff. Also, you don’t have to do this, but if I have Meyer lemons in the yard, I’ll squeeze some over the finished asparagus before combining them with the pasta.
Grandma poached her egg, leaving the center soft and runny. I fry the egg in a little olive oil, over easy—same result, really… as long as the yolk is runny.
And lastly, we always left the asparagus whole (except the ends of course, that you snap off in the prep). Sicilians like the length of the asparagus matched to the length of the pasta.—Chris Christensen
2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and cleaned
1 pound hot cooked spaghetti
Reserved pasta cooking water
Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
Poached or fried eggs with runny yolks, 1 or 2 per serving
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Trim asparagus, put in a single layer on baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, until stems are soft enough to bend with the pasta and slightly charred, tossing once. Time will vary with diameter of asparagus.
When pasta is cooked, drain it, reserving about 1-1/2 cups of the cooking water. Return pasta to cooking pot with 1 cup of the water. Add 2 tablespoons butter, a hefty drizzle of olive oil, a handful of grated cheese, salt and pepper, roasted asparagus and its oil, and toss, adding more pasta water as needed, and more cheese or oil to make a slightly emulsified sauce. Check salt and pepper.
Onto each serving plate put a knot of the pasta mixture, and top with a cooked egg, salt and pepper, and a shower of grated cheese.