Wild Asparagus alla Carbonara

It seems there a lot of people out there who think thin asparagus are superior to fat spears.  I don't bother to correct their misconception. Wanna know why? Because it leaves more of the fatties for me.

The wild asparagus I pick, Asparagus officinalis (click through here to learn how to find wild asparagus), grows in an astonish array of girths - from thin as a toothpick to thicker than my thumb. And every one of them tastes the same. So with the fat ones, there is just more to love, a more substantial bite of asparagus-y goodness.

It's also not true that fat spears of asparagus are tougher than thin ones. Both thick and thin wild asparagus are equally capable of being tender or tough. When my foraging pal Erica was in town the other day, we roasted a large sheet pan full of asparagus to accompany our dinner, including the enormous stalk of wild asparagus pictured at left. That one was tender right down to the bottom. Erica ate it elegantly with a fork and knife, reporting that it was like eating the asparagus equivalent of steak.

Because I have such affection for fat stalks of wild asparagus, I tend to eat them first. Inevitably, I end up with a whole bunch of thin asparagus, which is where this recipe comes in handy. When oven-roasted until they are just tender and floppy, asparagus are a lot like noodles. If you love wild asparagus, even the thin ones, this is a particularly nice way to highlight their unique flavor.

Wild Asparagus alla Carbonara

1 lb. thin asparagus
olive oil
2 oz. guanciale*, cubed
2 eggs
1/2 c. grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 T. boiling water
freshly cracked black pepper

1. Place the whole spears of asparagus on a baking sheet pan, lightly coat them with olive oil and salt, then roast them in a 425˚ (F) oven for 5-10 minutes, or just until they are tender when pierced with a knife.

2. Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, cook the guanciale until the fat has rendered out, and the meat has gotten crispy and brown. Remove the pan from the heat.

3.  In a large glass bowl, mix together the eggs, cheese, and water.

4.  As soon as the asparagus comes out of the oven, dump it into the bowl of eggs, cheese, and water, then add the guanciale and its rendered fat. Toss the ingredients together immediately using a pair of tongs. If the sauce doesn't look creamy enough, add another teaspoon of boiling water.

5. Finally, season the asparagus with a generous amount of black pepper.  Taste a spear of asparagus. Between the pork and the cheese, it shouldn't need any salt, but if you find that it does, add a pinch of sea salt. Serve the wild asparagus alla carbonara right away, while it is still piping hot.

*In a pinch, you can substitute pancetta or bacon. But this is a special occasion dish, so I'd vote for using guanciale.

Popular Posts