Asparagus with Pancetta

April 18, 2011
3 Ratings
  • Serves 3 to 4 (add a poached egg and it serves 2 for dinner)
Author Notes

Sometimes when I learn something new in the kitchen I feel embarrassed that I hadn't figured it out sooner. Cooking asparagus was that way. Sure, I knew how to high-heat roast it, and I loved that technique. But when I wasn't roasting asparagus, I'd slide back to blanching the spears. Then, while working on a story a few years ago, Carlo Mirarchi, the chef at Roberta's, showed me the right way. As he noted, blanching does little but drain asparagus's flavor, and they're no longer so tough that they need blanching anyway. A much better method is to saute them in oil or butter (or some combination thereof). They cook through quickly and retain all their flavor.

That's what I do now. And so should you (when you're not roasting them). To celebrate my asparagus enlightenment, I'd like to share with you two recipes that involve sauteing and not much other work. One calls for pancetta, the other for chiles and lemon -- all of my most reliable friends in the kitchen. —Amanda Hesser

What You'll Need
  • One 1/4-inch-thick slice pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed
  • 1/3 cup coarse bread crumbs
  • 1 pound asparagus, ends trimmed
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Maldon or other flaky sea salt, for garnish
  • Coarsely ground black pepper
  1. Spread the pancetta in a large, heavy saute pan and place over medium heat. Cook the pancetta until it has browned and rendered its fat. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towel.
  2. Keep the pan over medium heat and add the breadcrumbs. Stir to coat the breadcrumbs in the pancetta fat (add oil, if needed), and cook, stirring, until the bread it toasted. Transfer to a plate. Wash out the saute pan if the breadcrumbs have stuck. Otherwise, keep going.
  3. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan, and increase the heat to medium-high. Add the asparagus spears, season with salt, and saute. They will brighten in color. Saute until just cooked through, but still crisp-tender at the center, 3 to 5 minutes.
  4. Arrange the asparagus on a platter. Sprinkle the pancetta and breadcrumbs on top. Season with a little Maldon, or other flaky sea salt, and pepper.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • gotham gourmand
    gotham gourmand
  • Cecilia Lanatta
    Cecilia Lanatta
  • Amanda Hesser
    Amanda Hesser
  • Merry
Amanda Hesser

Recipe by: Amanda Hesser

Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.

9 Reviews

Merry March 21, 2018
How perfect - so sorry I didn't find it sooner. We substituted speck which we had on hand and this method of cooking asparagus is delicious!! Thank you!
Amanda H. March 22, 2018
Thanks for giving it a try, and the speck substitution sounds great!
gotham G. June 1, 2013
Absolutely delicious! Made this for my mom on Mother's Day (as suggested in your sample menus) and she couldn't have been happier! I'll definitely be making this again and again. Thanks amanda!
Amanda H. June 1, 2013
So glad!
jenniebites March 28, 2013
loved this, especially the crunch from the panko. now i have an alternative to roasting!
vivanat March 22, 2013
The first bunch of asparagus from our CSA met this preparation tonight. So very good.
Cecilia L. March 21, 2013
This looks easy to do and very tasty...but very rich in fat.
Sandy R. May 14, 2011
This recipe falls in the category of "How can that be any good--it's so easy!" Trust me, it is both! We love (and grow) asparagus, and have tried dozens of ways to serve it, but this is hands down the most delicious. The pancetta adds just a light touch of saltiness and the bread crumbs (I used whole wheat panko because that's what I had) add the pancetta-toasty crispiness that really makes the dish. My only other comment is to ALWAYS peel the asparagus, no matter if pencil thin. Thanks so much--who knew life could be this simple?
Amanda H. May 14, 2011
So glad you liked it!