Little Monsters

So so sorry for disappearing, especially after promising you all sorts of Passover recipes and Passover cookbook reviews. My little girls, blessings in my life, destroyed my laptop. It was a combination of spilled chocolate milk and frustrated little fists banging away on the keyboard. Little Monsters. (They are huge Lady Gaga fans, so it’s OK that I call them that.)

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But thanks to having an April birthday and generous family members, I bought a refurbished laptop at the computer shop in town. I even had a coupon. Rich was chagrined to discover it doesn’t have a camera, although I’m pleased that it has a disc drive, something we now know is hard to come by in newer laptops. It’s a very basic machine. To put it in perspective, we spent more on our cat today than on my “new” computer. (It was a very expensive day.)

But now it’s May, and just like everyone said would happen, the asparagus popped in my front yard — right on schedule, just as April ended and May began. We technically live in “Asparagus Valley,” which means it’s all over menus in the area, and people start complaining about there being too much of it. I personally can’t fathom there being “too much asparagus,” just as I was secretly pleased when a colleague started to complain about the rhubarb taking over her yard. (She’s bringing some in for me. Will report back with a recipe as soon as that happens.)

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But yes, I have my favorite asparagus recipe for you, but first I do want to mention the terrific pickled beets in my fridge which I’m looking forward to telling you about. Soon, my friends. Soon.

We saw this recipe on Anne Burrell’s Secrets of a Restaurant Chef what seems like a million years ago. It’s very simple to make — all you need is a sharp knife and a few ingredients: asparagus, red onion, pecorino, a touch of extra-virgin olive oil.

The key is to go small. The asparagus is raw, so it needs to be cut into very thin coins — think a couple nickels stacked. The red onion is also a teensy, teensy dice — centimeters, not inches. Once everything is cut, you need about an hour for the flavors to mingle.

Asparagus, Pecorino and Red Onion Salad by Anne Burrell

Ingredients
1 bunch pencil asparagus, tough bottoms stems removed
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 cup coarsely grated pecorino
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

Directions
Slice the asparagus, including the tips, into very thin slices crosswise and place in a medium bowl.

Add the red onion and pecorino and toss to combine.

Dress with the vinegar, olive oil and salt and toss again. This salad should be fairly heavily dressed. The vinegar will sort of “cook” or tenderize the asparagus.

It is best to do this about an hour or so in advance to let the flavors “marry”.

Easier Than You Think

Can we talk about bread crumbs for a sec? Well, more than just a second, but it seems fitting since we just ended an eight day stint with nary a bread crumb in sight. There was a time when I would buy bread crumbs, and the truth is, it’s not the biggest deal if you do. But I’m here to convince you to make your own, and it’s much easier than you think.

Lilli in shades

First thing’s first. Don’t go to the bread section of your market. Walk over to the bakery section. On the side there should be a cart or maybe just a shelf, piled high with yesterday’s goodies. Maybe there will be a bag of muffins, marked down 75% that you should buy and store in your freezer for when you feel like a muffin and you don’t want to turn on the oven or leave the house. Perhaps there’s a German chocolate cake that’s half off. All these items are perfectly delicious, but most stores can’t sell food unless it’s the freshest. (Another time remind me to tell you the story of Rich and my first date. It involved me, a stale cannoli in Quincy Market and a very embarrassed Rich. It all worked out in the end, obviously.)

But yes, on that shelf of day old baked goods should also be a selection of bread loaves. For me, it was a day old French baguette that cost fifty cents. As Rich quipped, with prices that low, John Valjean wouldn’t have had to steal.

If you’re not in a rush, let that cheap day old loaf sit on your counter for another day or two; we’re aiming for stale. When the time is right, get out your food processor, break the loaf into chunks, and pulse away. I’ve found that turning the food processor on and just letting it spin makes the bread crumbs too fine. You can then store your fresh, homemade bread crumbs in a Ziploc bag in the fridge. They’ll be good for months, since they were stale to begin with.

And now that you have bread crumbs, might I suggest this lovely little springtime dish. We had it last night for dinner, and I found myself fingering a bunch of asparagus tonight at the market, wondering if it would be overkill to have it two nights in a row. (I resisted, but no, it is not.) It’s a Melissa Clark recipe, and you know how much I love her stuff. The only thing I would do differently than the original recipe calls for is to make this in a non-stick skillet. I always make a mess of my fried eggs in a regular skillet, as the picture illustrates.

Clark says she got the idea for this dish from the franny’s, an Italian place in Brooklyn that’s on my list of places to check out the next time we’re in NYC. There they serve an asparagus salad of wood oven-roasted stalks covered in vinaigrette, bread crumbs, and minced hard-cooked eggs. I haven’t tried that version, but I love this one here.

A word about asparagus, because I’m realizing I don’t think I’ve talked about it on this blog. The best way to trim its ends is to hold up a stalk and give it a bend at the end. It will naturally snap off where you should cut it. I take a page from Martha Stewart and use that one stalk as the ruler and cut the rest of the stalks to match it. And yes, that is an asparagus plate in the photo. Rich bought it for me years and years ago for a springtime present.

Pan-Roasted Asparagus with Fried Eggs and Anchovy Bread Crumbs, from Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite

Ingredients

3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 Tablespoons unseasoned, preferably homemade bread crumbs

1 anchovy fillet , minced

1 small garlic clove, minced

Kosher salt to taste

¼ teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

2 large eggs

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and anchovy and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bread crumbs are browned and toasted, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and a large pinch of salt and sauté until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Add the lemon zest, then transfer the mixture to a small bowl.

Wipe the skillet with a paper towel and return it to the heat. Add another tablespoon of the oil and then add the asparagus and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring and shaking the pan occasionally, until the asparagus is tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer the asparagus to a serving plate and sprinkle with the bread crumb mixture.

Add the remaining tablespoon of the oil to the skillet and return it to the heat. Crack in the eggs and fry until just set but still runny, 2 to 3 minutes. Slide the eggs on top of the asparagus and serve.