Elsa Martinelli, il Colosseo, and a fluffy white kitty.
Recipe: Easter Eggs with Asparagus, Guanciale, and Pecorino
Easter in Rome—what a lovely fantasy. It sounds grand and enveloping, old-world Catholic, except that if you’re a tourist and don’t have anyone to freeload off of, you’ll discover that most of the restaurants are closed, and you’ll wind up eating leaden fettuccine Alfredo with a bunch of Japanese in an overpriced hotel dining room. And the Vatican will be a mob scene. Oh, well. Another glamorous bubble burst. I guess I’ll stay put in slick and godless Manhattan, hanging out with the cats and my freshly laid-off friends to cook up some solid Roman food.
Roman Easter food has always had a big allure for me. It’s creative, seasonal Italian cooking at its best. Lamb, ricotta, eggs, artichokes, asparagus, shell peas, favas, and wheat all play a part in the Roman Easter feast and springtime celebrations. These are rich tastes, but their freshness and greenness make them renewing to the spirit, which is just what I need this time of year (doesn’t everybody?).
Here’s a Roman dish that I absolutely love. It highlights the beauty of spring asparagus, and I can’t imagine Easter without asparagus. (It’s not quite in season here yet, but what comes from California is pretty decent.) Here you bring together a few simple ingredients—asparagus, eggs, pecorino, guanciale, a handful of herbs—to create a truly opulent dish. Since you leave the egg yolks soft, they run all over the asparagus and the guanciale, creating a cheesy, eggy sauce. Really nice. I think this makes a great first course before another classic Roman Easter dish, braised lamb with fresh green peas. Here’s my recipe for that, if you’d like to give it a try.
And I’ve got more Roman Easter recipes on the way.
Easter Eggs with Asparagus, Guanciale, and Pecorino
(Serves 4 as a first course)
1 large bunch medium-thick asparagus, trimmed and peeled
Extra-virgin olive oil
⅓ cup well-chopped guanciale (or use pancetta instead)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
Freshly ground black pepper
The juice from ½ a large lemon
4 extra large eggs
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (the best you can find, and not too salty)
A few chives, chopped
A few large sprigs of fresh mint, the leaves left whole
Set up a pot of water, and bring it to a boil. Drop in the asparagus, and blanch for about 4 minutes. Drain the asparagus in a colander, and then run it under cold water to stop the cooking and to set its green color. Drain well.
Lay the asparagus out in a shallow baking dish.
In a large skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the guanciale, and let it get crisp and give up its fat. Add the garlic, and sauté a minute longer, just to release its flavor.
Remove the crisp guanciale bits from the skillet with a slotted spoon, and scatter them over the asparagus. Discard the garlic. Season the asparagus with salt, black pepper, and the lemon juice. Reserve the guanciale cooking fat.
Poach the eggs in just-simmering lightly salted water until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny (you can do this two at time, or one at a time, whatever you’re comfortable with). Scoop them from the water with a slotted spoon, resting them on paper towels for a moment to blot excess water, and arrange them on the asparagus. Spoon a little of the guanciale cooking fat over the eggs, and a little over the asparagus if you have extra, and season the eggs with salt and black pepper.
Sprinkle on the pecorino, and heat the dish under a broiler until the cheese just starts to melt, about a minute or so. Garnish with the chives and the mint. Serve right away.