While one often thinks of asparagus as a food for April, local asparagus will be in season for the next few weeks.
This is the time of year when the location advantage goes to those who live in the countryside -- as well as to those who run restaurants there. Kevin Connell, of the Yellow Brick Bank restaurant in Shepardstown, W.Va., must send to Washington for such things as table candles and mussels, but he buys asparagus and other fresh produce from farmers in the area. "For years restaurants gave vegetables a bad name by taking them out of cans," he says, so he looks for new ways to present fresh ones.
In the following dish he combines Virginia country ham with poached eggs and freshly grated parmesan cheese, and accents the entree with asparagus, which he steams in a large, covered skillet in very little water. This, he says, avoids having to tie the asparagus together and stand it up in a deep pan.
Although Connell doesn't usually serve his eggs on bread, this dish would go very well atop english muffins.
Since the dish takes very little time, you may want to splurge on dessert.
It is assumed that every kitchen will be equipped with flour, sugar, salt, pepper and butter (this week, unsalted) or vegetable oil.
EXPRESS LANE LIST: eggs, country ham, asparagus, parmesan cheese, english muffins, chocolate.
EGGS YELLOW BRICK BANK (4 servings) 4 english muffins 8 eggs 4 thin slices country ham 1 pound fresh asparagus 2 ounces parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Toast english muffins. Poach the eggs to taste in simmering water. Meanwhile, heat the ham in a warm oven, under a broiler or in a skillet, being careful to warm it through but not dry it out (perhaps add a little water to a large skillet, add the ham, cover and cook over low heat). Steam the asparagus by placing it in a large skillet with a little water, covering with a tight-fitting lid and simmering for 3 to 4 minutes, or until done to taste. Place a slice of ham on top of english muffins on each serving plate. Top the ham with 2 poached eggs. Grate a little cheese over the eggs and garnish them on either side with steamed asparagus.
CHOCOLATE EASE (3 to 4 servings) 2 eggs 6 tablespoons unsalted butter 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate 3 tablespoons flour 2 tablespoons sugar
Separate the eggs. Melt the butter and chocolate in a heavy saucepan over low heat or the top of a double boiler. Beat egg yolks briefly. Add chocolate mixture and stir. Add flour and stir in gently but completely. Beat egg whites until they are foamy, then add sugar and beat to soft peaks. Fold egg whites into chocolate mixture and spoon mixture into a 6- to 7-inch skillet. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. The outer edge should be like cake, the inner part very soft.