From the archives, just in time for my favorite vegetable to hit the market. Enjoy!
The markets are back open, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, and I can almost forgive the swarms of tourists and the row of port-o-potties that totally block the view along the tidal basin, because spring has sprung! Thrills.
After a long winter of stews and soups, rice dishes and noodle bowls, I crave the fresh simplicity of spring produce. When a Sunday at the market sends me home with asparagus, fresh shelling peas, rhubarb, and (cross your fingers!) ramps, I try to prepare meals in a no-frills manner, letting the vegetables speak for themselves. Why kill fresh peas with a gloppy sauce? Why bury asparagus in soup or risotto? Leave those more involved, less spare recipes for another time. These first spring vegetables should be celebrated, I tell you.
At first glance, this recipe looks mighty simple; its success lies in the precise cooking of the vegetables until just tender and golden, and in the careful balance of the peas’ sweetness and the asparagus’ bitter earthiness with salt, pepper, and citrus. It’s also paramount that you serve this dish immediately after cooking. If you plan to let it sit a while before eating it, know that you’ll have something just fine, but not particularly remarkable. This should hop off the stove and go right into your mouth.
If you’ve got access to really good asparagus, shelling peas, and fresh basil or tarragon, I can’t think of a better way to use them. What are your favorite spring dishes?
Simplest Asparagus with Fresh Peas
1 pound asparagus
1 cup fresh shelling peas, from about 40 pods
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
good flaky salt
freshly cracked pepper
1/4 cup torn basil leaves
zest 1 lemon, preferably unsprayed
1-2 tablespoon lemon juice
Wash and dry asparagus spears. Trim 1-1.5 inches off the ends, and cut on the bias into three or four pieces each.
In a large, shallow frying pan, heat butter on medium until it foams and then subsides. Add asparagus, and shake pan to get pieces into a single layer. Add a sprinkling of salt. Continue cooking, shaking pan frequently, until asparagus are cooked through but still very firm, about 2 minutes. Turn heat to low. Add peas. Shake pan to distribute, and cook 1 minute longer, just until peas are very plump (they may start to pop and/or jump out of the pan; if that happens, you’re done — turn off the heat).
Remove pan from heat; add lemon zest, basil, and a few grinds of pepper. Shake pan again to distribute evenly. Transfer to serving bowls or platter and sprinkle with another pinch or two of salt, to taste. Squeeze abut 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice over the vegetables — just enough to offset the salt, you don’t want the lemon to overpower the vegetables — and serve immediately.