Almost anything is better with a poached egg on top: pasta, salad, a sandwich, asparagus ... the list goes on. Poaching the eggs for this dish is a fairly quick, time-sensitive, and hands-on process, so I don't usually make this for big groups. But you could try my friend Judy's trick. She pre-poaches the eggs, dumps them in cold water to stop the cooking, and keeps them there. Just before serving, she drops the eggs into simmering water for 1 minute to heat them up again. I like to use extra-virgin olive oil here, for the great flavor.
2 bunches medium asparagus (about 40 spears)
8 large eggs
1 teaspoon white vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
Cut off the bottoms of the asparagus spears. (To know how much to cut off, break one spear near the bottom and see where it snaps naturally. Using that as your guide, cut the bottoms off the rest of the spears in approximately the same place.)
Break the eggs into 8 individual containers, such as teacups, prep bowls, or paper cups. Prepare the poaching liquid for the eggs by bringing water, plus the vinegar and 4 pinches of salt, to a boil in a large, straight-walled, low-sided pan over medium-high heat.
Meanwhile, cook the asparagus: Bring salted water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus and cook it until it is as tender as you like it (3 to 4 minutes for crisp-tender). Remove the cooked asparagus from the water with tongs, and set it aside while you make the sauce.
To make the sauce, empty the water from the saucepan and dry it out. Add the olive oil and heat it over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté for about 1 minute, enough to take the raw edge off but not to give it much color. Turn off the heat; then add the butter and swirl the pan. Add the lemon juice, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste, and swirl the pan again to mix the ingredients. Put the asparagus back in the pan, add 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan, and toss with the sauce to coat.
To poach the eggs, make sure the water is boiling, then slowly pour each cup of egg into the water. Let the eggs cook for about 2 minutes; then turn off the heat and remove the pan from the burner.
Meanwhile, divide the asparagus among 4 plates. Bring the plates of asparagus close to the pan of poached eggs, and place a folded clean kitchen towel next to the plates.
As quickly as possible after the eggs have cooked for 2 minutes, use a slotted spoon to fish the eggs, one at a time, out of the poaching liquid, blotting the bottom of the spoon on the towel to absorb excess moisture. Place 2 eggs on each mound of asparagus. Pour any remaining sauce over the eggs, and sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan over the top. Serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 4
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