Chef’s special: Grilled Asparagus with Fried Eggs and Pancetta
Fried eggs are a must at every diner. Whether you’re stopping on a road trip for a break from the steering wheel or you’re sitting down in your suit and tie for a fancy evening, fried eggs will appear on your menu.
Eggs, in general, are one of the most versatile dishes conceivable. Not only they can be made in so many different ways, they can also be paired with mostly anything, from steaks to avocado and, of course, veggies.
All of those in love with nature and its fruits, will certainly be titillated when the opportunity to be creative in the kitchen presents itself. When it comes to picking your vegetable of choice to blend and enrich the classic flavor of a couple of fried eggs with, not a lot of options beat asparagus.
Just like any other vegetable, the first asparagus was found in the wild, and what many might not be aware of is that a wild asparagus does not have that thick stem we all see when we pick it up at our local supermarket. Selective breeding techniques help develop a thicker stem from an initial thinner-than-pencil shape.
Its long history can be traced as far as the first century, when records show of asparagus growing in ancient Greece and Rome. Moreover, Egyptians would cultivate it for its supposed beneficial medical effects and it has been also said that it was held in such reverence that is was even offered to the gods during rituals.
Only imagine if the egyptians had known about what a great couple asparagus and fried eggs make! Imagine if the Romans knew that a special extra touch to an already delicious dish would be one the very components of modern Roman cuisine, namely pancetta.
Not to be confused with regular bacon, pancetta is a classic ingredient within Italian cuisine. You won’t find a single Italian kitchen lacking pancetta.
The main difference between the two lies in their preparation. While they both come from pork belly, to make bacon, pork belly sides are brined and then smoked, whereas pancetta is made by seasoning a pork belly side with salt and lots of pepper, curling it into a tight roll, and wrapping it in a casing to hold the shape. It’s cured, but it isn’t smoked.
The taste is also very different. Take a stroll down the streets of Rome and ask any passer-by to make you a nice “Amatriciana” with bacon instead of pancetta and you will know the two cannot be swapped so light-heartedly.
What you end up having is a tasty dish featuring complementary ingredients that scream to be paired together. You can make it in less than 30 minutes and it’s perfect for every occasion: from a fancy breakfast to a romantic dinner where you get to show off your culinary sophistication as well as your cooking skills.
Here’s what you need:
4 slices of white bread
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme or rosemary
16 asparagus spears, tough ends removed
Olive oil for drizzling
2 tsp. plus 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 thin slices pancetta, chopped
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)
Here is what you have to do, step by step:
1. Cut the crusts off the bread slices and discard and tear the bread into pieces. In a food processor, mix the bread pieces with a touch each of salt and pepper. Process to form coarse crumbs. Add the thyme or rosemary and pulse a few times. You should have 1 cup (2 oz./60 g).
2. Preheat an oven to 400°F
3. Spread the asparagus in a baking dish large enough to hold it in a single layer. Lightly dress it with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Turn the spears to coat them evenly. Roast until crisp-tender and the color has darkened slightly. Remove from the oven and cover with aluminum foil.
4. In a small fry pan over medium-high heat, melt the 2 tsp. butter. Add the pancetta and sauté just until it darkens slightly. Add the breadcrumbs and sauté until golden. Remove from the heat.
5. In a large fry pan over medium-high heat, melt the 2 Tbs. butter. Break the eggs into the pan, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Reduce the heat to low and season the eggs with salt and pepper. Cover and cook until the whites are set and the yolks begin to form around the edges.
6. Arrange the asparagus on plates. Transfer the eggs to the plates. Sprinkle the eggs and asparagus with the bread crumb mixture. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and serve.