The snow around town has pretty much melted. The afternoon air is beginning to feel a bit warmer and spring break is just around the corner. These are sure signs that the season is about to change. In my kitchen just a few short months ago I was pouring through recipes for soups, stews and braises for making the comfort foods that were so deliciously warming during those cold winter months, but things are about to take a turn.
Soon a number of short-lived vegetables of the spring harvest will be popping up in your grocery store's produce isle. Bright green fava beans, impossibly sweet English peas waiting to be plucked from their pods, delicate fiddlehead ferns and fresh garlic shoots, ample supplies of fresh asparagus and "baby" anything are now available at much more reasonable prices. All these are sure signs that it's time to step away from the butternut squash and sweet potatoes of the winter and toward the lightness of spring.
This beautiful first course of roasted asparagus, crispy pancetta, toasted fresh bread and a soft runny poached egg is one of the best ways to celebrate spring's first asparagus. Although I did not make up this delectable combination, I have enjoyed it time and again, changing up the ingredients with what I have on hand and what I find in the market.
6 slices of Italian pancetta, regular smoked bacon, prosciutto that has been baked in the oven until crisp or even crispy sausage bits like sweet Italian or Spanish Chorizo.
6 slices of rustic bread. I like the Village Baker's Italian Striata.
2 bunches asparagus, trimmed and washed. For variety, try the white versions in stores now.
6 large eggs—I really prefer farm fresh—at room temperature
2 tablespoons vinegar. You can use white, apple cider, white or red wine.
1/2 cup shaved or shredded cheese like Parmesan or Pecorino Romano
1/3-1/2 cup good quality fruity olive oil
6 teaspoons white truffle oil. This is optional, but makes this dish incredible.
Freshly chopped Italian parsley, chervil or tender baby greens for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and place pancetta slices on top. Cover with another piece of foil and top with another baking sheet. Bake until crispy, about 10-15 minutes. Set aside.
Drizzle asparagus with a little olive oil and a bit of salt and fresh pepper. Roast or grill until crisp tender.
Slice bread and drizzle with a bit of oil. Grill or toast until golden brown.
Heat water in a pan with four to five inch sides that is large enough to hold all the eggs comfortably. Add vinegar and bring to a boil, turn down to simmer.
Crack one egg into a small bowl. Gently lay the edge of the bowl into the simmering water to allow the egg to warm a bit. Gently slip each egg into the water. Continue with the rest of the eggs, being careful not to let them touch. Cook for three minutes, or until whites are firm and yolks are still runny, without disturbing.
While eggs are cooking, assemble plates. Place toasted bread on salad plate or shallow bowl. Top with roasted asparagus and add pancetta to the side. Use a spider or slotted spoon to carefully remove eggs from water. Dry eggs by placing a few layers of paper towels in your other hand and gently tapping the back of the spoon with egg in it to absorb excess water. Place egg on top of asparagus.
Garnish with shaved cheese, a drizzle of truffle oil, or a bit more olive oil, and garnish with fresh parsley, chervil or tender greens.