There are several reasons to keep this speedy, supremely satisfying meal in your rotation: It’s a lifesaver on nights when you’re tired to cook. It’s a new way to highlight asparagus, one of spring’s most special gems. Or, if you’re like me, it’s a perfect excuse to make and devour these sizzled paprika croutons, which get crispy on the outside yet stay soft on the inside, and are all kinds of delicious when combined with a runny-yolk fried egg and crisp-tender asparagus.
Some notes as you get going: Any type of day-old crusty bread or sourdough is good for the croutons. Lately, I’ve been using this peasant bread (which makes a mean grilled cheese sandwich to boot). Tear (don’t cut) the bread: the irregular shapes and sizes lend a variety of textures to the croutons, and the runny yolk better clings to them (a very good thing indeed!). If you don’t have asparagus, feel free to substitute broccoli (cut into thin, small florets so they’ll cook quickly), sugar snap or snow peas, or a few handfuls of kale or other leafy greens. Even a handful of chopped herbs or scallions sprinkled over the dish before serving works well. —EmilyC
large slices crusty bread, torn (crust and all) into bite-sized pieces (yielding about 3 cups in total) (see author note)
In a 12-inch skillet, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon butter, and garlic cloves over medium heat. Add the smoked paprika (it will gently sizzle), then mix in the bread. Stir until each piece is evenly coated in the paprika and fat. Saute for about 3 minutes, or until the croutons are lightly toasted and starting to crisp around the edges (lowering the heat, if needed, to not burn the butter or paprika).
Move the croutons to the edges of the skillet. In the middle, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the asparagus. Season with salt and black pepper, then stir to integrate with the croutons. Saute, stirring frequently, until the asparagus is crisp-tender and the croutons are nicely crisp yet soft in the middle, about 4 minutes (time may vary based on the spears’ thickness). Adjust seasoning to taste. Give the garlic cloves a quick chop and stir into the asparagus, or save for another use.
Either in a separate skillet, or in the same skillet (with the asparagus and croutons transferred to another dish; no need to clean the skillet), heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat. Crack eggs into the skillet and season with salt, pepper, and a few pinches of smoked paprika evenly sprinkled over the eggs. Fry until the whites are golden brown and crispy at the edges, and yolks are still runny, about 2 to 3 minutes (or longer for yolks on the medium or well side).
To serve, transfer the asparagus and croutons to plates and top with the fried eggs. Serve warm.