Milanese Asparagua

Asparagi alla milanese (Milanese Asparagus)

In antipasti, Lombardia, primi piatti, Spring by Frank Fariello21 Comments

Asparagi alla milanese, or Milanese asparagus, might just be the best known asparagus dish in the Italian repertoire. True to its Northern roots, it features butter and cheese, whose sweetness is the perfect offset to the somewhat astringent, slightly grassy taste of asparagus. A ‘sunny side up’ fried egg completes the dish. When eating, I like to break the egg yolk and allow it to run over the asparagus, making sure that each bit of asparagus I bite into has ample butter and cheese and egg yolk… Dietetic it’s not, but it’s awfully good!

Although actually rather simple to make, if you ask me, this dish is too impressive to be relegated to side dish status. But, otherwise, it is very versatile: It makes for an elegant Springtime antipasto, and it works as an unusual primo, when you don’t feel like a starch. It can even do service as a quasi-vegetarian secondo. And it makes a fine light supper all by itself, with some crusty bread and a piece of fruit for dessert. In fact, that’s what we had for dinner last night…

Ingredients

For 4 people

  • A large bunch of asparagus
  • 100g (one stick) butter*
  • 100g (4 oz.) freshly grated parmesan cheese*
  • 4 eggs
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Cook your trimmed asparagus in well-salted water, using one of the standard methods (see below) until just tender—removing them from the heat slightly less tender than you like to eat them, as they will continue to cook as you proceed with the next steps. Let the asparagus stalks drain in a colander. (NB: Do not refresh with cold water; you want the asparagus to stay warm.)

While the asparagus are draining, take a skillet big enough to hold all your eggs and melt the butter in it. Fry the eggs gently in the butter. Regulate the heat to make sure the butter does not darken or (God forbid!) burn. (Although unorthodox, I like to add just a bit of olive oil to the butter to help prevent this.) As they eggs cook, spoon the hot butter over the whites of the eggs to help cook them on top. Season to taste. The eggs are done when the whites are just set and the yolk still liquid.

While the eggs are cooking (they will only take a minute or two) arrange the asparagus on a heated serving platter. The traditional pattern is to arrange the asparagus stalks in a ‘star’, with the tips all pointed towards the center of the platter, which should, of course, be round and large enough to accommodate this arrangement. Personally, I find this a bit fussy (and the asparagus tends to lose heat this way) so I simply line them up more or less neatly on an oval platter.

Then sprinkle the grated cheese, which you should grate at the last moment to retain its full flavor, all over the asparagus. It should look like a heavy dusting of snow that covers the asparagus more or less entirely. Then place your eggs on top of the asparagus and spoon the melted butter remaining in the skillet all over. The eggs and hot butter should melt the cheese entirely.

Serve immediately, as this dish is at its best when it is still nice and warm.

Notes

Asparagus comes in several varieties. Leaving aside white asparagus, which is wonderful but perhaps not ideal for this particular dish, the basic choice is between young, thin asparagus and the older, thicker kind. Either kind needs to be trimmed of the rather woody base: just line them up on your cutting board and cut off the bottoms, about where they begin to lose their green color. Thin asparagus (which I personally prefer) needs no more preparation. Older asparagus develops a tough skin, which should be peeled off. If in doubt, bite a bit of one of the stalks to see whether the skin is noticeably tough; if so, peel.

The only slightly tricky part about cooking asparagus is that being essentially shoots, they have very think, tender tips (with very delicate buds on them), which need hardly any cooking at all, and rather thicker bases, which need a bit more time to cook until tender. The older the asparagus, the greater the difference between tip and base.

To get around this problem, you can buy an asparagus cooker, which is a tall, narrow lidded pot with a basket insert, which holds the asparagus stalks together upright and allows you to remove them easily. Water is put into the bottom of the cooker, just enough so that the thicker stalks are immersed in boiling water while the delicate tips simply steam. If you are using older asparagus, an asparagus cooker is practically a necessity. (One of the few cases, in my opinion, where a single-purpose pot is.)

Asparagi alla milanese (Milanese-Style Asparagus)

Younger, thinner asparagus can be made two other ways: the modern method is to lay your asparagus out flat in single layer in a a skillet filled with boiling water, which has the advantage of being quite fast. (The inch or two of water will come quickly up to the boil, especially if you’ve covered your skillet, and will return to the boil quickly as well.) Or, using a more traditional method, you can tie your asparagus together with kitchen twine and boil the bunch in a lots of well-salted water in a large pot. This takes a bit longer but tying the asparagus together makes things a bit easier when it’s time to remove the asparagus from the heat.

It hardly needs saying, but, of course, like so many simple but exquisite Italian dishes, success will depend largely on the quality of your main ingredients. The asparagus must be impeccably fresh—the stalks firm, with their buds intact and tightly gripping the tips. The cheese must be real parmigiano-reggiano, preferably freshly grated while your asparagus is cooking. And if you can find butter from a local dairy farm, well, you’ll be experiencing the dish at its very best!

* Most recipes for Milanese asparagus will call for a lot less butter and cheese than I do here. I like to ‘overdo’ these rich ingredients, but leaving behind any butter I feel I don’t need in the skillet, and sprinkling only as much cheese as I feel like using. (Excess butter needs to be thrown out, but the excess cheese can be used another day.) Better to have more than you need on hand than too little, I say! But, of course, you can hold back on both ingredients if you like.

Asparagi alla milanese (Milanese-Style Asparagus)

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 4

Asparagi alla milanese (Milanese-Style Asparagus)

Ingredients

  • A large bunch of asparagus
  • 100g (one stick) butter*
  • 100g (4 oz.) freshly grated parmesan cheese*
  • 4 eggs
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Cook your trimmed asparagus in well-salted water, using one of the standard methods (see below) until just tender—removing them from the heat slightly less tender than you like to eat them, as they will continue to cook as you proceed with the next steps. Let the asparagus stalks drain in a colander. (NB: Do not refresh with cold water; you want the asparagus to stay warm.)
  2. While the asparagus are draining, take a skillet big enough to hold all your eggs and melt the butter in it. Fry the eggs gently in the butter. Regulate the heat to make sure the butter does not darken or (God forbid!) burn. (Although unorthodox, I like to add just a bit of olive oil to the butter to help prevent this.) As they eggs cook, spoon the hot butter over the whites of the eggs to help cook them on top. Season to taste. The eggs are done when the whites are just set and the yolk still liquid.
  3. While the eggs are cooking (they will only take a minute or two) arrange the asparagus on a heated serving platter. The traditional pattern is to arrange the asparagus stalks in a 'star', with the tips all pointed towards the center of the platter, which should, of course, be round and large enough to accommodate this arrangement. Personally, I find this a bit fussy (and the asparagus tends to lose heat this way) so I simply line them up more or less neatly on an oval platter.
  4. Then sprinkle the grated cheese, which you should grate at the last moment to retain its full flavor, all over the asparagus. It should look like a heavy dusting of snow that covers the asparagus more or less entirely. Then place your eggs on top of the asparagus and spoon the melted butter remaining in the skillet all over. The eggs and hot butter should melt the cheese entirely.
  5. Serve immediately, as this dish is at its best when it is still nice and warm.
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Frank FarielloAsparagi alla milanese (Milanese Asparagus)

Comments

  1. vittorio Orsi

    FRANK, THANKS AGAIN, IT SHOWS THAT SEMPLICITY GOES HAND IN HAND WITH THE BEST ITALIAN FOOD NO MATTER FROM WHAT REGION, PEOPLE SHOULD TRY WHEN GETTING HOME FROM A VERY HARD DAY´S WORK TO GET IN THE KITCHEN, HAVE A NICE GLASS OF WINE AND FORGET THE OUTSIDE WORLD EVEN IF IT IS ONLY FOR A FEW MINUTES………….WILL SAVE A LOT OF MONEY AND WILL GAIN IN HEALTH..GOD BLESS AND KEEP SENDING US YOUR LOVELY NAD MOUTH WATERING RECIPES.
    VITTORIO

  2. Trix

    Anything with a fried egg on top is worthy of main course status, in my opinion. There is (almost) nothing not improved by it. I love this flavor combo.

  3. Dianeuk

    Frank, the theory about snapping v cutting is that the asparagus will snap at the exact spot on the stem where it becomes tender. This makes it easier to judge than cutting as differing stems have differing lengths of tender stalk. We often have mixed bundles with varying sizes which are really hard to judge. Buy the way much of our supplies come from an orchard which was once an asparagus field so I suppose it could be considered wild!!!!

  4. Frank

    Thanks everyone for stopping by and leaving a comment! And for those of you who are thinking of trying this dish, do let us know how you like it!

    @MomChef: I think you're right on the money. Funny to think how the same basic ingredients (eggs and butter) can produce such different results just by changing technique and adding a different 'accent' (cheese vs. lemon)!

    @Stacey Rider: Thanks!

    @jetset WISDOM: Do let me know how you like it!

    @Greg: Eggs and asparagus get along famously! Let me know if you like them this way.

    @Belinda: Absolutely right.

    @Claudia: If you do try it, let us know how you like it!

    @Dianeuk: I've heard about that advice (snapping vs. cutting) but never understood why. Any thoughts?

    @LoriLynn: Thanks, Lori!

    @Diethood.com: Bacon and cheese sounds awesome as well. I'll have to try it that way soon!

    @Drick: Steaming is definitely the best way to go. And if you try this, do let us know how you like it!

    @Emily: Mine, too, thanks!

    @Spicie Foodie: You're so right.

    @whitneymc2008: That may be the best review I've gotten so far this year!

  5. Spicie Foodie

    I've never tried asparagus this way, but I have to tell you that it's making my mouth water. I would also like it as a light dinner with a crusty baguette.

  6. Drick

    very nice article on asparagus, has become one of my favorite spring foods, like to steam them mostly…. never had it with egg, sounds interesting

  7. Diethood.com

    Oh this sounds fantastic! I love asparagus, and I often make it with some bacon and cheese on top, but this sounds even better! I love the cheese and egg… yummo!

  8. Lori Lynn

    Love the simplicity Frank. This dish is perfect as is, doesn't need any extra embellishments. Kudos to you for keeping its original beauty.
    LL

  9. Dianeuk

    Along the same lines I like to dip asparagus into boiled eggs instead of toast soldiers. By the way a lot of asparagus is grown where I live and we never cut it but snap the hard part from the tender. It will naturally snap at the right place.

  10. Claudia

    I often make asparagus with chopped hard boiled ggs and herbs and drizzle of olive oil as a topping – the fried egg with a runny yolk is seductive. This may be tomorrow's lunch!

  11. Belinda

    Oh precious precious – this is gorgeous and elegant. Should definitely not be relegated to anything but center focus.

  12. Greg

    I poached an egg and served it on asparagus the other day. I will have to try this with the butter and cheese.

  13. j e t s e t WISDOM

    C'e bello!!! Domani, proverei! Today, I'm into fresh farm eggs poached on lean ham and lots of garden arugula. Hollandaise would be a great add-on…but trying to eat simple! Non lo stesso, ma ci sono similar!

  14. The Mom Chef

    You can't see my happy dance, but it's because I just bought asparagus yesterday. Really, this dish is asparagus with a deconstructed hollandaise sauce, isn't it. Perfect. Absolutely perfect.

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