Recipe for Milano-Style Asparagus

If you’ve ever had a Bismarck pizza in Italy, you know that this particular kind of pizza is served with a fried egg; and while enjoying your pizza, you might have asked yourself what eggs have to do with the German name of Bismarck. Legend has it that Otto von Bismarck was infamous for enjoying heavy food like meats and eggs and that he could eat several eggs in one sitting. That’s why to this day in Italy almost anything that’s served with a fried egg on top is called “alla Bismarck”. And, this kind of pizza usually also comes with an excellent pairing with fried eggs, the springtime vegetable of asparagus.

The following recipe is not for pizza, however, but rather asparagi alla milanese, a simple dish of asparagus and fried eggs, just like the famous pizza toppings. But first, a little background about this delicious veggie.

Not everyone likes the unique taste of this vegetable (or the unique smell it adds to urine after eating it!), but it is considered something of a delicacy in some parts of the world, and it was especially so in the Renaissance due to the complicated method of cultivation. Originally grown in Asia Minor and brought to Europe and the Mediterranean thousands of years ago, asparagus was eaten by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. And today, Lombardy is a great place for growing asparagus.

Both white and green versions of the vegetable can be found in Milano, though the green is perhaps more popular and it’s the kind used in this recipe for asparagi alla milanese. Asparagus season is now through May or June, so now is the perfect time to try out this springtime dish.

When buying your asparagus from the supermercato or open-air market, be sure to get it fresh: choose firm, straight, round spears, with compact green tips and white or light-colored ends. The spears should snap easily when bent. And don’t get wet, slimy or smelly asparagus, a sure sign it isn’t fresh.

Cooking time: about  20-30 minutes

Ingredients (for 6 people)

  • 1kg asparagus
  • 120g butter
  • 6 eggs
  • 20g grated or slivered cheese (parmigiano-reggiano or grana are both good options)
  1. Prepare the asparagus by washing it. You can break off the fat end which can be woody, or simply peel the end to get rid of some of the tough portion of the veggie.
  2. Then tie the asparagus together, and place it in a saucepan filled with 5-8cm water so that the green part (including the leafy tips) are outside the water. This method steams the tops and boils the tougher bottoms. Cook covered for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Cook the eggs in a frying pan with a little oil, preparing as desired (over-easy is the classic order).
  4. Plate the asparagus in a circle with the leafy tips pointing in, then put the egg in the center. Finish with some grated or slivered cheese.
  5. Enjoy!

For a complete Italian dinner, you can serve your asparagi alla milanese with a primo or side dish of rice or risotto.

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