This delightful little starter is a perfect example of using quality ingredients that are close at hand. This is the way I like to encourage people to cook. Eschew the shopping list and look to what is fresh and available.
I was recently at a friend's farm, near Canberra and I was charged with ferrying them to the airport the next day for a grueling flight to Rome. Needless to say the larder was bare, as they were to be absent from their house for some weeks.
What they lacked in quantity of food was more than compensated by the quality. They had fresh, farm laid eggs, a treat that I could not let go. With a quick trip to the store for some nice thick spring asparagus, the entrée was all but ready.
This is a supremely simple dish to make, but the old mantra remains the same. The more simple the dish, the better the ingredients need to be. Please use fresh, good quality asparagus, good Italian Parmesan cheese and the freshest of free-range eggs.
2 bunches asparagus, 500 gm (1 lb)
4 free range eggs
1 Tbs white vinegar
100 gm (3 oz) real Parmesan cheese
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
60 ml (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Cut the woody stems off the base of the asparagus. If they are thick, peel the bottom third. This not only removes stringiness, but leaves an attractive appearance. Using a vegetable peeler, shave all the cheese into thin shavings.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the vinegar. Reduce the heat to the gentlest of simmers. If you are uneasy with poached eggs, it will be easier to crack them first. Have ready 4 shallow dishes and crack the eggs into each. Using a slotted spoon, swirl the water vigorously until it forms a whirlpool. Gently slide each egg into the spinning water, the movement will help the eggs set into nice shapes. Cook for 3-4 minutes for soft yolks. Lift the eggs out with the slotted spoon. The whites should be set, but the yolk should be soft to the touch. The runny yolks will form part of the dressing.
Heat another pot of water to the boil. Add the asparagus and cook for 2-3 minutes, no more. Please don't over cook the asparagus. Remove from the water.
Divide the asparagus between 4 plates. Top each bundle with a poached egg. Combine the oil and lemon juice and drizzle over the asparagus and egg. Scatter with the cheese, then season with salt and pepper. Serve forth.