With a distinctively vegetal, sharp yet delicate flavour reminiscent of olives and the tart bite of lemon, asparagus is a spring table classic, the season’s first stalks tender and firm. A member of the lily family, asparagus — a name meaning “shoot” or “sprout” in Greek — is thought to date back 2,000 years, originating in the eastern Mediterranean. Used widely throughout ancient Greece, Rome, Syria, and Spain, the vegetable earned a regal reputation for its fine taste and medicinal value. Roman Emperor Augustus, credited with coining the phrase “faster than cooking asparagus,” is said to have built the “Asparagus Fleet” especially to transport the vegetable, and a recipe for cooking asparagus was found inside Apicius’ De Re Coquinaria, the world’s oldest surviving cookbook.
Rich in essential vitamins and minerals and low in calories, asparagus makes an ideal addition to a cleansing spring meal — be it in a side dish, salad, a savoury tart, or at brunch alongside poached eggs. In this simple recipe, we’re highlighting the sunny flavours of its Mediterranean roots: tossed in a light dressing of olive and citrus, and served with thin, lacey Parmigiano crisps and ribbons of salty Montagne ham.
Ingredients (4 servings): 20 stalks of asparagus, 1 tablespoon sea salt, 4 slices of Montagne ham
For the dressing: 0.70 oz crushed black olives (spread), 2 teaspoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon lemon juice
For Parmigiano lace: 3.5 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated
Preparing the asparagus:
Remove the little green leaves from the tips of the asparagus stalks and trim off the tough bottom ends. Using a peeler, slice five stalks of asparagus lengthways into long thin strips. Place in ice water and set aside in the fridge. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add sea salt and the rest of the asparagus. Let cook for 6 minutes. Transfer cooked asparagus into a bowl of ice water, then drain on a paper towel.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. On a baking sheet, spread out the Parmigiano cheese in a very thin layer. Bake for about 5 min. Let cool.
In a bowl, combine the crushed black olives, lemon juice and olive oil.
Drain the fine slices of asparagus and toss them with half of the dressing. Place five stalks of cooked asparagus on a plate and pour over the remaining dressing. Top with the thinly sliced asparagus ribbons and thinly sliced ham. Finish with the Parmigiano lace.
English Text by Kate Missine Recipe and Photography by Gaëlle Didillon