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Recipe of the week: Asparagus: Time for this vegetable’s close-up

Asparagus is only in season from late spring to early summer. 

Asparagus has a “delicious and delicate” flavor but a short season, making it a “luxury vegetable that deserves a starring role,” said the staff of the Silver Spoon Kitchen in Vegetables From an Italian Garden (Phaidon). At its best from late spring to early summer, asparagus is just one example of how “the Italian garden flourishes” in the first months after winter has waned.

When buying asparagus, “look for tightly furled tips and straight, fresh-looking stems.” There are several types of asparagus, including white asparagus, which is simply a green variety that’s been deprived of light while growing. In your kitchen, scrape away any tough skin, and cut away any woody lower parts.

Asparagus tastes great when brushed with oil and grilled or roasted, served warm or cold, with a squirt of lemon juice. When we cook the spears in water, as in the dish below, we tie them into bundles and stand them up so that the tips protrude above the water’s surface. Cooking time varies according to stem size and toughness, and whether or not the heat is left on high or lowered to a simmer.

The dish below calls for quail eggs, which can be found at most Asian markets. Still, asparagus is the featured attraction.

Recipe of the weekQuail eggs and asparagus (Ovetti nel nido)

1 hard-boiled regular egg2/3 cup olive oil10 green olives, pitted1 tbsp white wine1 tbsp white wine vinegar1 tbsp chopped parsley1 tbsp chopped marjoram2¼ lbs asparagus, trimmed16 quail eggs or 2 regular eggs1 lettuce heart, shreddedSalt and pepper

Shell hard-boiled egg, then halve and scoop yolk into a bowl. Add olive oil, olives, wine, and vinegar; season with salt and pepper; pour in 3 tbsp of water; and blend with a fork until thoroughly combined. Sprinkle with parsley and marjoram and set aside.

Trim asparagus all the same length and tie in bundle with kitchen string. Bring a tall pan of lightly salted water to boil. Add asparagus, standing upright with tips protruding above the water. Cover and simmer for 10–15 minutes, or until tender. Remove asparagus and dry on paper towel.

Put quail eggs into a pan of cold water, bring to boil, and boil 4 minutes. Remove from water and submerge in cold water. When cold, shell eggs and carefully cut in half. Make a bed of lettuce in the center of a serving plate. Slice asparagus spears lengthwise and arrange around sides to resemble a nest. Place halved quail eggs on top (or boil and coarsely chop 2 regular eggs for same purpose). Drizzle sauce over top and serve. Serves 8.

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