Big Little Recipes

The Only Way I'm Eating Asparagus This Year

April 21, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re letting asparagus lead the way.


If you’ve ever read this site in the summer, you already know that our staff is full of tomato sandwich superfans. We’ve tried it with fried provolone, jammy eggs, bacon aioli, and gooey Brie. But if I’m being honest, my favorite tomato sandwich barely needs a recipe—though, yes, we do have one—just tomatoes, mayo, and toast.

Of course, it’s tempting to add all sorts of flourishes: slivers of avocado, tufts of dill, a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of red pepper flakes. But the truth is, bread plus mayonnaise plus seasonal produce is uniquely delicious all on its own.

Tomatoes have an advantage because they are inherently juicy. Once cut into, they ooze all over your toast, which happily drinks it up the way you’d chug water after a long run.

But that doesn’t mean you should limit your adventures in bread-mayo meals to just tomatoes. Try watery cucumbers or radishes, meaty roasted peppers or marinated artichokes, even squeaky blanched green beans. Or, my springtime favorite, asparagus.

Stalky and snappy, this ingredient doesn’t stick around long. All the more reason to show it off, unadorned. Most simply, you could do what our contributor Abra Berens (have you tried her buttermilk beans yet?) does every spring:

“I snatched a slender stalk from the box and shoved it into my mouth, sand and all. This is my ritual,” she writes in her cookbook Ruffage.

For anyone not near an asparagus patch—me and maybe you—we can still share the same simple pleasure, and almost as quickly. Just blanch asparagus in salty water and pile it on smothered toast. A few things to keep in mind along the way:

If you don’t properly season the water, there’s no point. Measuring isn’t necessary, so long as you keep this ratio in mind: 1 tablespoon of kosher salt to 1 quart of water. Purposeful seasoning makes blanched asparagus taste livelier, happier, asparagus-ier. (Conversely, undersalted water yields a vegetable that lacks confidence.)

The better the bread, the better the sandwich. This goes without saying. Something seedier, grainier, or sourer will provide a strong backbone to all the springiness. That said, if you’re aren’t able to access your favorite bakery these days (me too), here’s a way to compromise—the toastier the toast, the bigger the flavor. Or, for extra credit, make your own (for beginners and experts alike, this is a great place to start). Lately, I’ve been baking bread on the weekends, and have yet to find a better way to unwind.

No, homemade mayonnaise isn’t necessary. (But if you want to, go for it!) When it comes to brands, Duke’s is the best if you ask me (or if you ask our staff taste test). That said, I’m a fan of most store brands that don’t include sugar—not because I don’t like sugar (I love sugar), just because I don’t like sugar in my mayo. Whatever you pick, use an unshy amount. Unlike other sandwich staples—say, roast beef or cured salami—asparagus is inherently unfatty and, in turn, craves something rich.

A little vinegar or lemon juice goes a long way. Asparagus, like just about any vegetable, benefits from a splash of something acidic. White wine vinegar is my favorite here, but other neutral, fruity vinegars like rice or sherry would be just as swell. Lemon is also nice.

Like a tomato sandwich, this is a messy affair. Don’t fight it. Bread crumbs will get on your sweatpants (what do you mean you aren’t wearing sweatpants?). Vinegary mayo will get all over your wrists. Maybe an asparagus spear will make a run for it. Just pick it up off the table and eat it anyway.

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Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

2 Comments

elizabeth April 26, 2020
Asparagus on toast is a simple pleasure that goes back to my childhood, topped with butter, fresh ground black pepper and shaved Reggiano. Yum. Asparagus and rhubarb are the first produce for sale in spring at the local farmers market each year and I always get my fill before it is replaced by more wonderful fresh fruits and veg.
 
Beth H. April 21, 2020
Recipe is good. I’ll have to try it. But I have to modify it. I can’t have the salt. Due to medical problems I have to eliminate the extra salt. I will try it with garlic instead.