Make Ahead

Absurdly Addictive Asparagus

April  9, 2010
4.5 Stars
Photo by Rocky Luten
Author Notes

I guess there's a reason Vosges Haut-chocolat Bacon and Chocolate bars are growing in just seems that when you add bacon to almost anything, the salty smokiness heightens the other ingredients. Bacon may rule, but its Italian cousin, Pancetta, is also a contender for the crown. Take a garden fresh ingredient like asparagus and pair it with pancetta and you instantly get Snap, Crackle, Crisp all in one bite. There's something about the bite-size pieces of tender crisp asparagus, buttery leeks, crackly pancetta, and delicately crunchy pinenuts that make it somehow hard for me to stop eating this easy to prepare dish. I tried adding Parmigiano Reggiano at the end, but it overpowered the citrus. After testing the delectable sugar cookie finalist recipes with MonkeyMom tonight, I have to wonder if the number 52 will be even more symbolic when it represents the number of pounds we've gained by the end of the year. Apparently, Asparagus isn't the only thing I'm addicted to— Food52 is rapidly becoming a habit, too. (Sorry for the lack of a photo— the camera is out of commission this week...) —kaykay

Test Kitchen Notes

"The title pretty much says it all. With her recipe, kaykay takes an already promising set of ingredients and artfully combines them in such a way that the resulting dish exceeds the sum of its parts. 2-inch lengths of asparagus, crisp-tender to the bite, take center stage in a savory tangle of leeks, pancetta, garlic, orange zest, parsley and pine nuts. The rendered fat from the pancetta, along with a knob of butter, is just enough to keep the vegetables from being dry without smothering the fresh flavors. The recipe is supposed to serve 4, but we could easily imagine polishing off an entire pan by ourselves." –A&M

"Absurdly Addictive Asparagus—Hyperbolic? Perhaps. Too good to be true? Maybe not. As easy to make as it is to scarf down? Most definitely. Take it from community member Dylan Mierzwinski, who had this to say about our site’s most popular asparagus recipe:

'This was so wonderful (all ninety times I’ve made it). I don’t change a thing, this is my go-to ‘impress others’ dish. And let’s be ‘impress myself’ dish.'

Originally uploaded to Food52 by community member kaykay in 2010, this recipe has racked up an impressive amount of attention, with upwards of 12,000 favorites and 300 comments. In honor of this success, we’ve memorialized it in video form, just in time for spring—a.k.a. asparagus season. The flavors are few but purposeful. Sharp citrus and buttery pine nuts meld with pancetta’s welcome heft; the asparagus pop out of the pan crunchy and vegetal, dappled in an exciting new sauce.

In fact, this recipe has been popular on our site for so long that this isn’t even the first time we made this asparagus on camera. Eight years back, when Food52 was still a fledgling young enterprise, Amanda and Merrill recorded this very charming proto–recipe video for Absurdly Addictive Asparagus in their Brooklyn kitchen. Camera quality has definitely come a long way since then, but the simplicity and tastiness of the recipe are timeless." –Valerio Farris

—The Editors

Watch This Recipe
Absurdly Addictive Asparagus
  • Serves 4
  • 4 ounces pancetta, cut into 3/8 inch to 1/4 inch dice
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 pound asparagus, woody ends trimmed and sliced into 2 inch pieces on the bias
  • 1 1/4 cups leek, thinly sliced crosswise (white and pale green parts only)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  • 1 tablespoon Italian parsley, chopped (more to taste)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In This Recipe
  1. In a large non-stick pan, sauté pancetta, stirring frequently, over medium heat, until crisp and lightly golden.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of butter to pan. Add asparagus pieces and leek and sauté until asparagus is tender crisp, about 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add garlic, lemon and orange zest, toasted pine nuts and parsley and sauté for about 1 minute, until fragrant. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper and salt and serve immediately.
Contest Entries

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Mila Mi
    Mila Mi
  • Heather Polley
    Heather Polley
  • Lisa McHugh Henkel
    Lisa McHugh Henkel
  • Elizabeth Detrich
    Elizabeth Detrich
  • Rey Compañeros
    Rey Compañeros

Recipe by: kaykay

I love cooking because you don't have to follow rules. I have dessert after breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I'd choose cioppino over fettucine alfredo any day. I love that my 6 and 9 year old daughters are epicurean adventurers and will plow through a huge bowl of mussels, sweat their way through Indian curry, or savor raw sushi. I can't pick my favorite meal until the end. Then, I will reflect back and choose one that truly stood out after after a lifetime of culinary indulgence.

324 Reviews

HulaGirl1570 June 21, 2021
Quick and easy. I didn't have pancetta and used bacon. It was too greasy. Next time I'll cook the bacon on it's own and crumble in. The lemon and orange zests made the taste pop.
Mila M. March 27, 2021
This is so great and simple! Will definitely make it again for guests.
Heather P. October 7, 2020
Is this adaptable to make a salad?
Elizabeth D. October 7, 2020
Of course! Anything can be adapted to make a salad. This would be delicious over bitter greens like arugula, add a little quinoa and toasted pine nuts. It'd be delicious. Keep the dressing simple, good quality extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, and a squirt of lemon juice.
Your imagination is your guide.
Lisa M. September 21, 2020
An absolute family favorite! This is a recipe that you can pull out for special guests and it will be the talk of the table. I’ve made it at least four times in the last two weeks and there’s never a stalk left.
Marielle April 22, 2020
Wow! This is definitely a new quick and easy dinner staple my house! Thank you!
slickrock April 21, 2020
First review I have submitted online. Had to say how extraordinarily good this recipe is! Only change was porkchetta for pancetta. This awesome dish was so great we ate immediately, then made 3 more times this week. Combined left over roasted sweet potatoes with asparagus in skillet, then added eggs cooked until yolks were custard like. Wow! New breakfast favorite! Thanks for this most incredibly flavorful dish!
margaret S. April 21, 2020
Today I made this with what I had, and it was delicious. I used green beans, garlic, scallions, lemon rind and roasted walnuts. My husband doesn't do porky meats so we didn't include that.
OldGrayMare April 19, 2020
THE best...we have been known to stand at stove and demolish the pan right then and there! (Um...more than once)
Rebekah F. February 19, 2020
I have made this several times now. Mostly with asparagus, but have used green beans, also. The last time (last night) I made it, I halved it and that was my dinner..just this. I have, on occasion, just squeezed some lemon juice over when I was too lazy to zest. I have made it with and without orange zest...either way, it is delicious! I also remove the pancetta when sauteing the veggies and adding it back at the end, so that it is fairly crispy. One of these days, I will put it over some pasta, for a more robust dinner. But last night, just this was enough. Sigh...happy girl :-)
Robyn P. November 18, 2019
I made this for a Friendsgiving and substituted green beans since I couldn’t find good asparagus (the spears at Whole Foods were gray and sad-looking). It was fantastic! The only other change I made was substituting Sweet Earth “bacon” for the real stuff since I don’t eat meat. Would also consider making with marcona almonds instead of pine nuts. This has earned a permanent spot on my T-Day menu!
Cheryl November 18, 2019
What a great idea to sub green beans! When I made it, I omitted pancetta (vegan) and it was still scrumptious.
judy October 23, 2019
All dressed up with so many ingredients. NO wonder it is addictive. So many friends are brought to the party. give me a pound of Asparagus and some lemon butter, and that is enough for me--maybe a sprinkle of salt. Steamed quickly in the micro and I am a happy camper. Or roasted I the oven works too.
Elizabeth D. September 9, 2019
Delicious recipe, given the ham was salty and greasy, I didn't add butter or salt. In fact, for the amount of panchetta, I doubled the asparagus and found it delicious. It's a delightful lunch over gluten-free pasta.
One hint is the asparagus cooks quickly, have all your ingredients ready before starting. I slightly over cooked the asparagus getting the other ingredients ready. In all - it's a delicious recipe!
I brought if over to a friend's house for Thanksgiving and was asked to bring it back subsequent holidays. It's a hit where ever I bring it!
Rey C. August 26, 2019
Wow. Where’s the disconnect? I hoped this was going to be one that sent me over the moon. Instead I got sent over to “meh”. In saying that though, I guess I’ve learned that I love grilled asparagus more than any combination of beautiful ingredients.
Sonel May 4, 2019
I hate asparagus! But I made this as a side dish for our anniversary dinner because my husband loves asparagus. I inhaled it! It was amazing! It’s the only asparagus that I will eat. Thank you for making something so gross amazing 😉
linded April 21, 2019
My pancetta was very lean and meaty, and didn’t yield much fat. I’d use half as much next time. Used olive oil instead of butter because I wanted to serve it room temp. Delicious with the leeks, pine nuts and citrus zest. Everyone loved it, but the meaty pancetta made it richer than I wanted. Will make again.
Rebecca K. March 30, 2019
Even though I saved this recipe years ago, I decided to use it for the first time last night with company who said they liked asparagus. Didn't have pancetta on hand but did have a strip of crispy bacon from the night before and crumbled that in instead. Dear God, where have you been all my life? Absolutely amazing.
Cheryl March 29, 2019
Delicious! I used only lemon zest and (embarrassed to say) didn't have fresh garlic so used a little garlic powder. Made it vegan with no pancetta and vegan butter. Ate 1/3 of it myself and that was with restraint! Will at least double next time. Thank you!
Cheryl March 30, 2019
Since I didn't have the fat from the pancetta, used a bit of Avocado oil. Perhaps next time I'll use olive oil as it would be more flavorable.
Cheryl March 26, 2019
Tried this tonight. Based on reviews, I cut the orange in half. I don't think it was necessary and would keep the original amount next time I cook this. I made a couple adjustments. I took the pancetta out of the pan and drained it on a paper towel so it would stay crisp. I got rid of half the bacon grease because I thought there was way too much with the addition of butter. I did not add the pine nuts or pancetta with the parsley, garlic, lemon and orange peel. Instead, I served the asparagus/leeks topped with pancetta and pine nuts. We loved it. Pancetta was nice and crisp and the nuts did not get lost or overpowered by the garlic and peels. This will definitely become part of our asparagus rotation while it is in season. May use method, as suggested, with other veggies as well.
Maria March 25, 2019
I tried this last night and it was outstanding! Next time I will try the very same recipe with quartered brussel sprouts.
Jenny A. November 30, 2019
Do you think you'll par cook your brussels sprouts before making this recipe? I'm thinking the same thing since asparagus isn't in season now...
Sandy March 24, 2019
Looks wonderful. But what is that music? Love it!!