The first blush of spring calls for an optimistic dish—something that conveys the hope of the first pushing crocuses and the first scattering of forsythia.
Tender shoots of green asparagus are among the greatest treats of the returning warm season. I particularly love this recipe because it brings together three ingredients that have an almost mystical affinity for each other: asparagus, mushrooms, and eggs. The green, herbaceousness of the asparagus, the earthy darkness of the mushrooms, the sunny cheerfulness of the eggs: it’s pure spring alchemy.
The one little trick in the preparation of this dish is the manner in which the asparagus is prepared. I have long had a fondness for asparagus that is cooked in a dry cast-iron skillet. No oil, no water—just spears exposed to the dry, puckering heat of blazing-hot iron. Asparagus cooked this way quickly loses its perky verdant green color, which is a minor loss in my view, one amply compensated for by a lovely nearly sweet-corn sweetness. Topped with an unctuous duxelle of mushrooms and a scattering of grated hardboiled egg, this is a dream of warmer weather, a peek at the lovely coming green of the growing season.
PAN-GRILLED ASPARAGUS WITH CREMINI MUSHROOMS
Serves 3–4 as a side dish
1 large bunch of pert spring asparagus, washed, the bottom inch of each spear trimmed with a knife
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 lb cremini mushrooms
1 tsp picked thyme leaves
2 tsp soy sauce
3 tsp dry sherry
1 hardboiled egg, yolk and white separated
Olive oil for cooking
Salt and black pepper
To garnish: dill, extra virgin olive oil, coarsely chopped pecans
Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat till a drop of water flicked onto the surface dances frantically and instantly evaporates.
Taking care that they are in one layer, place the asparagus in the pan. Cook in batches if need be. Let them cook, without moving them, for at least 4 minutes a side or until blackened in spots all over. Remove to a waiting platter as they get cooked. Once all the spears are cooked, drizzle them with a fine olive oil and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt. Set aside while you work on the mushrooms.
Using a large knife, chop the mushrooms very finely. This can be accomplished using a food processor, but the texture suffers a little from the indiscriminate slashing of the processor blades. If you have the time and the patience, I highly recommend doing this step by hand.
Heat 2 tbsp of butter in a large sauté pan. When the butter has stopped sizzling, add the chopped mushrooms and a large pinch of salt. Stir well over medium-high heat for 2–3 minutes. Then cover and let cook for another five minutes to allow the mushrooms to release their juices.
Uncover the pan and turn the heat up, stirring frequently to reduce the mushroom juices. Cook for at least 10 minutes or until the mushrooms are dry and glossy with butter.
Add the soy sauce, sherry, and a hearty sprinkle of black pepper and stir to combine.
Check for seasoning and adjust salt, pepper, soy sauce, and sherry as needed. The mixture should taste rich, dense, and intensely savory.
Spoon the mushrooms over the waiting asparagus.
Using a coarse grater, grate the cooked egg white and yolk over the mushrooms. This is fussy job and if your grater isn’t up to it feel free to crumble the eggs by hand and scatter it over the mushrooms.
Garnish with sprigs of fresh dill, a handful of chopped pecans and a flourish of a fine, fruity olive oil.