Friday, May 08, 2009

Asparagus Alfredo



Sorry to have been silent for so long but, as many of you know, I was assaulted a few weeks ago by a homicidal sidewalk. I have at last recovered; sadly, the sidewalk is still at large. Anyway, back to it.

May's Saveur features a piece by Todd Coleman on the origins of fettuccine Alfredo, accompanied by his well-researched version of the original recipe. (Only the recipe is posted online, if you want to read the whole story, you'll have to buy the magazine, which you should anyway; it's a monthly masterpiece.) Coleman touches the usual bases: A real man named Alfredo originated the dish. It was eventually sampled by Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Mary Pickford, soon after which it became a worldwide phenomenon. Finally, that fettuccine Alfredo should never be made with cream, as most Americans (why are we always the benighted ones, anyway?) believe.

I like cream. Cream makes almost everything better...except for severe body bruises and a bloody lip...um, where was I? And I do particularly like cream with fettuccine, lots of parm, peas, and bacon. But I know damn well that it's not authentic; even Chef Boy-Ar-Dee would sneer at its pretension.

Coleman's recipe, based on a great deal of research, intrigued me, and when a recipe intrigues me, I pretty much want to make it right now. The only problem was that that evening I was dining alone, and his recipe used 1 pound of dried fettuccine and 1/2 pound of butter, which, even for me, seemed rather excessive. Then I thought of the pound of fresh farmer's market asparagus sitting at home in the fridge. Was asparagus Alfredo even possible? It was not only possible, it was rich, unctuous, and just a bit offbeat. Try it while those stalks are still going cheap at your local market. Please don't bother with imports; they won't cut it in this dish.

Asparagus Alfredo
(serves one as a main dish, two as a side)
1 pound asparagus (a mix of thick and thin)
2 or so tablespoons butter, cut into bits
2 generous handsful parmesan (I cheated and used Russo's parm-romano blend)
freshly ground black pepper

Bring a pan of salted water to a healthy simmer.
Break off ends of asparagus. Peel bottom two inches or so with a vegetable peeler (This seems to cut down on stringiness.)
Add asparagus to water, cooking about five minutes. The asparagus should be bendable and tossable, and the really skinny stalks almost soft. Crisp-tender (dreadful concept) does not work here.
Meanwhile, run a flat bowl under hot water until warm. Place the butter bits in the bowl. Remove the asparagus from the pan, roll in the butter, then throw a handful of cheese on top, tossing with great abandon. The thinnest stalks will shred a bit which is just fine. Add the rest of the cheese, along with a tablespoon or two of the cooking water to smooth it out, and toss even more madly. Top with a grind or two of pepper and serve.

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I'm a ninth-generation Brooklyn native living in Manhattan.