A Roman Easter Dinner
Roman Easter food has always had a big allure for me. It’s creative, seasonal Italian cooking at its best. Lamb, ricotta, eggs, artichokes, asparagus, shell peas, favas, and wheat all play a part in the Easter feast and Roman springtime celebrations. These are rich tastes, but their youth and greenness makes them renewing to the spirit, which is just what I want around this time of year.
Here’s a Roman dish that I absolutely love since it highlights the beauty of spring asparagus, and I can’t imagine Easter without asparagus (even though they’re not quite in season here yet, but California imports are pretty decent). Here you’re bringing together a few simple ingredients, asparagus, eggs, pecorino, guanciale, a handful of herbs, to create a very opulent dish. Since you leave the egg yolks soft they run all over the asparagus and the guanciale, creating a cheesy, eggy sauce. Really nice. I think it’s a great first course before another classic Roman Easter dish, braised lamb with fresh green peas. Here’s my recipe for that if you’d like to give it a try: http://ericademane.com/2002/05/05/agnello-alla-cacciatore/.
Easter Eggs with Asparagus, Guanciale, and Pecorino
(Serves four as a first course)
1 large bunch of medium thick asparagus, trimmed and peeled
Extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup well chopped guanciale (you can use pancetta instead)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
Freshly ground black pepper
The juice from ½ a large lemon
4 extra large eggs
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano (get the best you can find, something that’s not overly salty)
A few chives, chopped
A few large sprigs of fresh mint, leaves left whole
Set up a pot of water and bring it to a boil. Drop in the asparagus and blanch for about 4 minutes. Drain the asparagus in a colander and then run them under cold water to stop the cooking and set their green color. Drain well.
Lay the asparagus out in a shallow baking dish.
In a large skillet heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the guanciale and let it get crisp and give up its fat. Add the garlic and sauté a minute longer, just to release its flavor.
Remove the crisp guanciale bits from the skillet with a slotted spoon and scatter them over the asparagus. Discard the garlic. Season the asparagus with salt, black pepper, and the lemon juice. Reserve the guanciale cooking fat.
Poach the eggs in just simmering, lightly salted water until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny. Scoop them from the water with a slotted spoon, resting them on paper towels for a moment to blot excess water, and arrange them on the asparagus. Spoon a little of the guanciale cooking fat over the eggs (an important step for flavor) and season them with salt and black pepper.
Sprinkle on the pecorino and run the dish under a broiler until the cheese just starts to melt, about a minute or so. Garnish with the chives and the mint. Serve right away.
Dining With the Saints is a monthly column written by chef and writer Erica DeMane.
Image: “Resurrection” mural by Piero Della Francesca 1463 – 65