Asparagus in a Starring Role

Since Easter is little more than a week away, I’ve begun to think about the menu for this special holiday, which we usually spend with our son and his family. Typically, Mike (my son who’s a talented and passionate cook) and I have several conversations about what to serve.  He always offers to prepare the meal’s main course, and chooses lamb or beef which he cooks on his oversized grill. I volunteer to take care of the vegetables and sides. This year I’m excited about a recipe for asparagus spears that are blanched and brushed with brown butter (known as beurre noisette in French cuisine) and then sprinkled with a flavorful mix of toasted hazelnuts, golden bread crumbs, orange zest, and chives.

I’ve made this dish twice recently, and discovered that asparagus prepared this way are delicious served either warm or at room temperature. Another bonus–this dish takes less than 30 minutes, start to finish. To pace your preparation, you can put together the hazelnut/bread crumb topping a couple of hours ahead. At serving time, simply melt the butter until it becomes a rich golden brown and cook the asparagus. Voilà you have a beautiful yet easy accompaniment for your Easter meal.

Although I am planning to use this dish as a side, it could easily be a stellar opener. Either way, a recipe serves five to six, but can be increased as needed. Happy Easter to everyone. And, to those observing Passover or Ramadan, both of which fall in April this year, may you have special celebrations as well.

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Asparagus with Brown Butter, Toasted Hazelnuts, Golden Bread Crumbs, and Orange

1/3 cup toasted bread crumbs (Recipe follows.)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts (See cooking tip.)
1 tablespoon grated orange zest (zest from 1 large navel orange)
1 tablespoon chopped chives

1 1/2 pounds slim asparagus with tough base ends snapped off or cut off and discarded
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Fleur de sel or other sea salt, optional

1. Prepare the bread crumbs as directed in the recipe below. Measure 1/3 cup, and add to a medium mixing bowl (Store extra crumbs in a self-sealing plastic bag at room temperature for up to a week.)

2. Add hazelnuts, orange zest, and chives to bowl with bread crumbs and toss to mix well. (Mixture can be prepared 2 hours ahead; cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature.)

3. Place butter in a small to medium heavy saucepan over medium heat. Heat butter until it foams and the milk solids in the bottom of the pan start to turn golden brown. This process  should take about 2 minutes, but watch carefully as cooking time can vary depending on pan and intensity of the heat. Set aside.

4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add asparagus and 2 teaspoons salt and cook at a good simmer until asparagus are tender when pierced with a sharp knife, 3 to 4 minutes depending on thickness of the spears. Remove asparagus to a colander, drain them, and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel.

5. Arrange asparagus spears in a row on a platter. Brush them with the warm butter, and sprinkle, if using, with fleur de sel. (If you don’t have sea salt, season with kosher salt.) Spoon the bread crumb /hazelnut mixture down the middle of the spears. Place any extra mixture in a small bowl for serving with a spoon. Serves 5 to 6

Toasted Bread Crumbs
Half or less of a good-quality peasant or country bread (sourdough works particularly well) with crusts removed
1 tbsp olive or canola oil

1. In a food processor, process enough slices to make 1 cup coarse crumbs.

2. Heat the oil in a medium, heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the crumbs and cook, stirring constantly, until they are crisp and rich golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. (Bread crumbs can be stored in a plastic self-sealing bag and refrigerated for up to one week.)  Makes about 3/4 cup or more.

Cooking Tip: To toast hazelnuts, spread them on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a preheated 350° F oven until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Watch carefully so nuts do not burn. Remove and place nuts in a kitchen towel and rub off as much of the skins as possible.

Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2022

2 thoughts on “Asparagus in a Starring Role

  1. This looks so delicious. That topping, including the nuts and citrus, would be good on green beans also as a side dish. Also on simple buttered pasta.


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