Asparagus season is upon us again, a promising sign of the reluctant spring. (Yes, asparagus is available pretty much year-round, but now is when it’s at its best.) First, the pencil-thin spears started showing up in the produce department, requiring little more than a quick blanch to render them bright green, crisp and delicious.
Next come thicker, “standard” spears, also good for a quick dip in boiling water, but equally wonderful – and perhaps more intensely flavored – when roasted or grilled. During these two stages, we greedily eat as much asparagus as many different ways as we can. Because next come the cigar-fat spears, so tough that you have to shave them. No, thanks. We’re done for the season.
For this recipe, roasted asparagus is topped with sautéed shallots and lardons (I used bacon – you can also use pork belly) and a poached egg for a quick, easy, light lunch. Well, easy with an asterisk. Every element of this dish is easy to do, but there are numerous moving parts that all happen simultaneously. Recipes sometimes refer to active time, that time when you’re actually hands-on doing stuff. The “active time” on this one is not unlike the old school circus act of spinning various plates on sticks. As you’re poaching eggs, you’re also keeping an eye on the bacon and shallots, making sure they don’t burn – and taking a quick peek at the asparagus in the oven.
Don’t be put off by poaching. Using poached eggs for this dish rather than frying them makes a big difference here. The asparagus is tossed in oil, and the bacon and shallot are cooked in a little oil as well as the bacon fat. The eggs, cooked only in water, add a leavening clean taste to the overall dish. And poaching eggs is easy, as long as you follow a few simple rules: keep the water slightly below simmering; add a little vinegar to the water; and stir the water to create a little whirlpool in the center before adding the egg. You’ll find complete directions in the recipe.
Serve this dish with slices of buttered toast and jam. For a more robust lunch, top each serving of asparagus with two poached eggs instead of one.
Roasted Asparagus with Poached Eggs and Lardons
16 to 20 spears of asparagus, not too thin or thick, tough bottoms snapped off
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 strips bacon, sliced crosswise into 1/3-inch pieces
1 medium shallot, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise
2 eggs (or more – see Kitchen Notes), the fresher the better
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place asparagus spears on foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat asparagus with oil. Arrange in a single layer on baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned and tender.
2. Meanwhile, cook the bacon and shallot. Drizzle a little olive oil in a medium nonstick skillet, add bacon and heat over a medium flame. As bacon starts to cook, stir occasionally. After a minute or so, add shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallot is translucent and bacon is cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. Also meanwhile, poach the eggs. Break the eggs into individual ramekins or small bowls (this will give you much better control than if you try to show off and pour them directly from the cracked egg shells). Heat about 1 inch of water in a medium nonstick skillet over medium flame. Do NOT bring the water to a boil. You don’t even want it to truly simmer – you just want it hot. When bubbles begin to coat the bottom of the pan, reduce heat to low.
Add a splash of vinegar to the pan to help hold the eggs together. Using a spoon, stir the water in the pan around the edges to create a gentle whirlpool in the center. Holding the ramekin close to the surface of the water, pour an egg into the center of the whirlpool. Let it cook undisturbed for about 30 seconds. Next, gently push any flyaway tendrils of egg white back toward the egg with a spoon. Cook the egg until just set, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the egg to a folded paper towel on a plate. (If the egg is sticking to the pan, gently free it with a spatula.) Cook the second egg and transfer to its own folded paper towel.
You can poach the eggs first if you’re nervous about getting them right and gently reheat them in the skillet of water.
4. Assemble the dish. Divide asparagus spears between two plates. Spoon some bacon and shallot over them with a slotted spoon (no need to drain the bacon shallot mixture on paper towels – the drippings help flavor the dish). Top with poached eggs and season with salt and pepper. Serve. (This dish doesn’t need to be piping hot, just warm, so don’t overthink it.)