Have you ever eaten asparagus raw, the moment they are cut from the ground? They taste almost like nuts, hazelnuts, with a bit of sweetness and a balancing hint of bitterness.
There are some farms around the New York metropolitan area where you can pick your own asparagus, and if you shop at a farm stand you should be getting fresh-cut asparagus. Any way you find them, try nibbling one raw. You may like it.
New Jersey is famous for its asparagus. They grow well in the state's sandy soil. All that sand means you have to be extra careful cleaning them. After rinsing them well, put them in a basin with cold water for a few minutes, then rinse them again. If you find that there is so much sand caught in the scales of the tips that they won't come clean even after careful washing, it's because they weren't handled well after picking. Try another source.
Even asparagus that have traveled from California are delicious cooked. I prefer the medium to thick asparagus, not the pencil-thin ones. The thicker spears are, naturally, meatier, but I think tastier as well.
The following very simple recipe doesn't require many asparagus, so if you have a few precious spears from your own or a friend's patch, this is a wonderful way to eat them. It's just fried eggs, boiled asparagus, browned butter from cooking the eggs, and lots of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
The combination of eggs and asparagus is classic in several cuisines because both are plentiful in the spring and, as the old adage goes, "Foods that grow together go together." In the Veneto and Friuli regions of Italy they serve their famous, thick, white asparagus with hard-cooked eggs.
Serves 2 as an entree
3/4 to 1 pound asparagus
4 tablespoons butter
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Using a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler, peel the bottoms of the asparagus. Alternately, if you have long asparagus, break off the tough bottoms. Either way, wash the asparagus well under cold water.
Bring a skillet of lightly salted water to a boil. Place the asparagus in the skillet and cook until just tender. Exact cooking time depends on size of asparagus, but medium thickness asparagus should take 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon or skimming spoon and drain on several thicknesses of paper toweling until ready to serve. Remember that the asparagus will continue to cook from their own heat as they stand and cool, so if you like very firm asparagus, time them accordingly.
In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Break the eggs into the skillet and cook over medium heat until whites are set but yolks are still runny.
With a spatula, remove the eggs to the two plates you will serve them on and arrange asparagus like spokes with the tips at the center of the plate. Be careful not to break yolks.
If the butter hasn't already begun to brown, increase the heat under the skillet and cook butter until lightly browned. Pour the browned butter over the eggs and asparagus tips and sprinkle grated cheese over all.
Serve immediately. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper at the table.