Easter is here and I’m happy. Frank, my teenage son, is happy too, knowing that for the rest of the year he no longer has to resist the fried foods he so resolutely gave up for lent. That’s no small task for a young man growing up in a fast food jungle, and, needless to say, I’m proud. But Frank will have to wait one more day for that dreamed of fried chicken, because his chef/father is a traditionalist and Easter is all about tradition. So what’s on the menu for this Easter Sunday?
Each and every year at this time I’m faced with the same Easter dilemma: Ham or Lamb? Like it or not, weather always influences my personal food choices, and there’s always a bit of guesswork involved. But this year the decision is easy. Fed up with the lingering days of a bleak winter and resigned to more rainy days ahead in this “cruelest of all months,” I’m already looking past Easter Sunday to the steamy bowls of pea soup that I will make from my leftover hambone. Dilemma resolved! Now how about a traditional vegetable?
Traditionally speaking, Easter just wouldn’t seem right without asparagus. It’s one of the first harbingers of spring, a symbol of new life and fertility, and a refreshing – and welcome – alternative to the green bean casserole that somehow seems to have crept in to too many holiday celebrations. I do asparagus a number of different ways, most often boiled and napped with a rich hollandaise sauce. My favorite way, however, is done with hard boiled eggs, toasted bread crumbs and chopped parsley. It’s a perfect Easter dish, it’s called Asparagus Polonaise.
Unlike most vegetables, where smaller and thinner would be more tender, thick asparagus stalks actually have more tender volume in proportion to its skin. So look for the biggest asparagus spears you can find and then peel them before they’re cooked. If you’ve never had peeled asparagus, you won’t believe the difference. Here’s how to do asparagus – properly:
Using a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler, start about 2 or 3 inches from the top and peel down and around each spear to the root end. Asparagus is tough and woody toward the root end, so simply pick up each spear near the bottom and snap it with both hands. The tough part will break off easily. Discard the ends and peelings, or save them to make asparagus soup.
Lay the peeled asparagus flat in a skillet, in several layers if necessary.
Barely cover with boiling salted water and place a cloth napkin or kitchen towel on top of the asparagus. This will help to keep the asparagus submerged and quicken the cooking time.
Cook at high heat for 6-8 minutes or until it is just tender.
To determine if the asparagus is cooked, remove one spear with a pair of tongs and shake it lightly. If the head bobs, consider the asparagus done. If you’re still not sure, cut a piece off the stem and taste it. There should be a slight crunch without any raw taste.
Frank Chlumsky opened Philander’s Oak Park restaurant as its first executive chef in 1979 and now works as a culinary instructor at The School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College in Chicago.
2 bunches Asparagus, peeled, trimmed and cooked
2 ounces butter
½ cup breadcrumbs, homemade preferred
2 eggs, hard-boiled, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 ounces additional butter.
Slowly melt 2 ounces butter in a medium-size frying pan.
Add the breadcrumbs and sauté until the crumbs are golden brown and crunchy.
Pour this mixture into a bowl.
Add the grated eggs and chopped parsley to the bread crumbs and toss with a spoon until well mixed.
Add the extra butter to the pan and slowly melt until it begins to just brown. Remove from the heat.
Lay the asparagus on a serving dish and top with the sauce polonaise. Just before serving, drizzle the nut-brown butter over the asparagus.