On a business trip last week, I drove back, forth, and back again (don’t ask) through the farmlands of the Fingerlakes. Upstate New York was still sort of chilly, and spring hadn’t quite sprung yet. At least, not the way it had in DC, where it feels like we’re teetering on the last little edge of asparagus, peas, and chives, about to tip over into full-fledged tomato season. Don’t mistake me for complaining about red orbs and stone fruit. I’m excited, really, I am. They make the hot, sticky weather bearable! But I’m not quite through with my beloved asparagus for the year, and sadly, DC is almost done with the ‘gus growing season.
Fortunately for me and a saving grace of an otherwise ho-hum business trip, upstate NY had as many strawberry patches as could fit on a one-lane stretch of interstate, and one roadside farm actually had asparagus for sale. Yeah, you know me too well. I tucked a bundle in my suitcase.
Truth is, I’ve made this asparagus hash more than once this spring. It’s an easy breakfast or brunch, and with a little practice and a grill pan, you can make it for company. I’ve made it with potatoes, because that’s the obvious choice. But — don’t judge me — on a recent Sunday, I discovered a single sweet potato languishing at the bottom of my vegetable bowl, probably leftover from like three days before, when it was still really cold out. Fresh out of potatoes, I used the sweet ‘tater instead, and you guys, it was something of a revelation, that strange mix of winter and spring. The hash was sweeter and softer, but with a little patience the cubes of potatoes still got plenty of exterior crust. It’s a simple recipe and with a little gumption, you can shape it to suit your mood and whims. I see it as a celebration of spring, and as such, I trick it out with the works: scallions, chives, ramps, et cetera. If you’ve got other stuff you feel like using, please be my guest. Before you know it, summer will be here. Maybe it’s already here. Let’s enjoy the last remnants of spring while we can.
Asparagus-Sweet Potato Hash
4 tablespoons butter, olive oil, or half and half
2 sweet potatoes (or substitute yukon gold potatoes), cut into a half-inch dice
1 lb. asparagus, diced
2 ramps or spring onions
salt and pepper to taste
Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a cast-iron skillet. When the butter is foamy and nice and hot, add the potatoes in a single layer (or as close as you can get) and leave them alone. Let them brown and crisp for at least 3 minutes before starting to fuss at all. From there, you want to start turning the cubes on their other sides, to give pale, raw parts a chance to brown and cook through. The whole process should take around 8-10 minutes. Not every side will be browned; that’s okay. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
After the potatoes are mostly browned, push them to the side of the pan and add the asparagus with half a tablespoon of butter or olive oil. Give them a chance to brown a bit themselves; cook them for about 3 minutes. Then add the scallions, cook 2 minutes more, and toss them together with the now-browned-and-toasty potatoes. Remove the hash to a plate (though if you’re using a different pan to cook the eggs, you can leave the hash where it is).
If you’ve got a grill pan, preheat it and add the remaining butter. Otherwise, you’ll have to fry your eggs one at a time. Add a generous tab of butter to the cast-iron pan you used to make the hash, and then proceed to make your perfect version of the fried egg. In my house, here’s how that goes: I turn the stove to medium, crack an egg into a bowl, and separate the yolk from the white. When the tab of butter in my pan is sizzling, I add the white and let it form a complete base before setting the yolk on top. I find that just those five seconds help prevent the yolk from overcooking on the bottom. Two minutes uncovered, 2 minutes covered, a sprinkle of salt and a few grinds of pepper, and my egg is perfect. You’ll have to play around a bit to find your ideal version.
A flat-top grill pan makes eggs for company easy, but I don’t have one, so I just fry them up one by one — or, if I’m feeling more hurried, I’ll set two pans up and fry two at a time. This hash is good enough that folks will be willing to wait.