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
- Serves 3 to 4 (add a poached egg and it serves 2 for dinner)
One 1/4-inch-thick slice pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
olive oil, plus more if needed
coarse bread crumbs
asparagus, ends trimmed
Coarse sea salt
Maldon or other flaky sea salt, for garnish
Coarsely ground black pepper
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.