Friday, June 1, 2012

asparagus with almonds and yogurt dressing

roasted asparagus with almonds and yogurt

One of the things I love about my city is the way we jump at the chance celebrate local events as unofficial, illogical holidays, just because. I get redorkulously excited about the Mermaid Parade, as well as the dapper sea of white uniforms all over the city during Fleet Week. I still haven’t convinced my (Russian! it’s in his blood and everything, I tell him) to do a Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge with me on New Year’s Day, but I did get him to stand on a center median of 14th Street looking west on Wednesday night at 8:16 p.m. (along with such a confusing cluster of people that a second crowd formed to scratch their heads at us) to catch a glimpse of this season’s Manhattanhenge. The events are random and even a little absurd, but NYC is no place to miss a chance to let your goofy flag fly.

asparagus headshot!
asparagus, from the sky, er, stepladder

I have another, smaller, day that I add to this list, which is the day that the mini-Farmer’s Market in my neighborhood opens each May. (Were you to dig through the archives, there’s a clear day every May when the site switches from pantry-raiders like soup and pasta to fresh new happy things.) Like a hopeless nerd with a shiny apple for the teacher on the first day of class, I show up the minute it opens and make a beeline for the broccoli, spinach and baby watermelons. I buy too much. I come back later and buy more, anyway. After six months of brown vegetables, you can’t blame me for overdoing it at the prospect of pearly stalks of rhubarb, lawns of asparagus, and strawberries that are red all the way through.

toasted marconas, lemon, hard-cooked eggs

peeling the tough ends

As is my tradition, I buy asparagus first. I then spend two days being overly precious about it, spending way too much time trying to find the very best way to celebrate the first pencil stalks of the seasons. There’s been Spring Asparagus and Pancetta Hash and Ribboned Pizzas and Salads, hearty sautes of Asparagus, Chorizo and Croutons and lemony pastas with goat cheese. But this year, I couldn’t rein it in; I’d been unable to whittle my pile of ideas down to a single standout of a dish when, at my favorite neighborhood restaurant Wednesday night, I had grilled asparagus with a garlicky lemon yogurt dressing and chopped almonds and ding! That was it.

pan-roasting, for the grill deprived

Back home, it took a little detour through Spain. I added smoked pimentón and chopped hard-boiled eggs (which totally makes it lunch). I used Marcona almonds I hadn’t realized I had until my MIL unearthed them from the back of the fridge, then toasted them even darker. And sadly, as we are still without a grill, I did the next best thing and pan-roasted the asparagus and this, my friends, is how I am going to eat asparagus for a while, or at least for as long as it lasts. Next May, we start again.

roasted asparagus with smoky yogurt
a real dinner table

One year ago: Fudge Popsicles
Two years ago: Root Beer Float Cupcakes
Three years ago: Pesto Potato Salad with Green Beans
Four years ago: Molly’s Dry-Rubbed Ribs
Five years ago: Zucchini Carpaccio Salad

Roasted Asparagus with Smoky Lemon Yogurt, Chopped Eggs and Toasted Almonds

The yogurt dressing below will make more than you need, but if you’re anything like us, you’ll want to make this again soon and will be glad you have it around. If you have a hot smoked paprika around, I am sure it would make a wonderful, kicky substitution for half the paprika. Chipotle powder, which is also smoky and hot, can impart a similar flavor. If you don’t have smoked paprika around, regular paprika with a pinch of ground cumin will add some smoky depth as well. Sumac powder, with an almost tart or sour paprika flavor, would be delicious in here as well. The longer the yogurt dressing rests, the more garlicky it will become.

The pan-roasting technique is adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, and I will treasure it because it manages to allow you to get the blistery, crisp-but-tender effect you might from a grill, without requiring that you either have a grill or run your oven for a long time. Hooray!

This dish is great warm but was also delicious at room temperature. Because of this, I think it would make an excellent brown bag lunch, cutting the spears into smaller segments that would easily fit in a container.

2 large eggs
1/3 cup whole blanched almonds, Marconas if you can get them

Yogurt dressing
1 cup plain yogurt (strained or Greek-style if you can find it)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon table salt

Asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pounds asparagus spears, tough ends trimmed or peeled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve
Squeeze of lemon juice
Drizzle of olive oil
Coarse sea salt

Hard-boil your eggs according to your favorite method. I like to put my eggs cold in a pot of water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Once it comes to a boil, I set the timer for 10 minutes and reduce the heat to a moderate simmer. When the timer goes off, I drain them and plunge them in ice water for a quick cooling. While they cool, toast your almonds. [If you have time, cook the eggs 24 hours or more in advance. Older hard-boiled eggs peel more cleanly.]

In a 12-inch heavy skillet, toast your almonds over medium heat, tossing them frequently until they’re lightly bronzed. [Marcona almonds often come already toasted and in a bit of olive oil. If you’re happy with their color, use them as is. If not, you can put the almonds and oil in the skillet to toast them more deeply, as I did.] Let cool.

Once eggs and almonds are cool, coarsely chop both and set aside.

Make your yogurt dressing, whisking all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Adjust seasonings to taste. Spread 1/2 cup dressing in a thin layer over serving dish and set aside.

Reheat heavy 12-inch skillet over medium high heat. Add oil, and once the oil is fully heated, add your trimmed asparagus spears — placing half in one direction and half in the other allows them to fit better. They won’t fit flat in a single layer, but you should try to spread them as evenly as possible. Cover the skillet with a lid (foil if you don’t have one that fits) and let skinny spears cook for 3 minutes and fatter ones for 5. Remove the lid, increase the heat to high, season the asparagus with salt and black pepper, and use tongs to cook the spears until they’re crisp-tender and well-browned along a side or two, about 5 minutes more for skinny spears or 7 minutes for thicker ones.

Transfer asparagus to dressing-coated serving dish. Sprinkle spears with an additional squeeze of lemon juice, if desired, a tiny drizzle of olive oil, chopped almonds, eggs and a bit of coarse sea salt. Dollop with additional yogurt dressing. Then dig in.


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