I first encountered a version of this light meal in Milano, a small cafe adjacent to the main cathedral square. This isn’t precisely the same because I had to guess at some ingredients unfamiliar to me, namely something that was strongly herby, bright green and finely chopped. It tasted like parsley but not entirely like parsley. I’m a keen gardener, I have a sizeable herb garden at home, so I have a working knowledge of greenery. So I thought. I was flummoxed by this green chopped up stuff. For all I know the gardener might’ve deposited a load of various garden clippings for a small price in the restaurateur’s pantry: nettles, dandelions, grass and whatnot. But enough about horticulture; I have a separate website for that.
So today, with the rain spluttering streaks on the windows just as it had during our visit to Milano … while I dragged my husband to the small chapel containing “The Last Supper” fresco … he complained bitterly the whole way about the weather … which after walking 2-hours we discovered was locked up tight for renovation and restoration work … gosh, I’m yammering … anyway, I was starving just like I was on that drizzly day. I made this for lunch today, not using a kilos of asparagus I hasten to add. Maybe a dozen spears and 1 egg.
Asparagus, Poached Egg and Chipped Parmesan
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
3-4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 teaspoons finely chopped lemon zest
1 kilo thin-stemmed asparagus, cleaned and trimmed
Salt (optional) and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon vinegar
a chunk of parmesan cheese
1. Chop the garlic, parsley and lemon zest, and then finely chop them together on a cutting board until well combined. Transfer to a bowl. Warm up a serving platter in the oven.
2. Bring a small pan of water with 1 teaspoon of vinegar to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and wait for the water to cool enough to produce small bubbles along the bottom of the pan that occasionally float to the surface. Crack an egg into a ramekin, give the water a slow swirl, and then slowly pour the egg into the water. Do not swirl water again; just let it sit. When you add the egg to the water, toss the asparagus in the other pan to cook. The egg needs about 3-4 minutes for a runny yolk, the time required for the thin-stem asparagus.
3. Simmer the asparagus in salted water until almost tender, 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat, and toss with the garlic-parsley-lemon zest mixture. Salt (if necessary) and pepper to taste. Mix together the lemon juice and olive oil, and drizzle around the asparagus.
4. Chip the parmesan by holding the cheese at a 45-degree angle to the grater, and firmly but quickly ‘chip’ off small chunks directly on to the asparagus. The saltiness of the parmesan and lemon juice should make additional salt unnecessary, so add salt with caution. Serve hot or warm.
[edited 1 Feb 2012: the herb was lovage!]