Soft-boiled egg with asparagus soldiers

Soft-boiled egg with asparagus soldiers

By
From
The Sunday Night Book
Serves
4
Photographer
Patricia Niven

In a Cambridgeshire village near the one where I live, there’s the most wondrous asparagus grower called Peter Elliot. He has been doing it forever, man and boy, and he regularly threatens to retire. When he does, I will be quite bereft, as his is the best asparagus I have ever come across. I particularly love his ramshackle ‘processing plant’, a corrugated-iron barn full of remarkable Heath Robinson-esque contraptions for putting elastic bands on bunches and suchlike. I flatly refuse to eat asparagus outside its season – traditionally from St George’s Day, 23 April, to the end of May (I’m telling you this because some growers seem to be popping it out in February these days, and I find it all most sinister) – but for those few precious weeks it appears at every meal possible. At other times of year, this addictive parmesan crusting can be used for salsify and celeriac in winter, or purple sprouting broccoli in early spring (bit more unwieldy to dip into an egg, mind you).

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
400g asparagus
30g butter
30g panko or other breadcrumbs
1/4 lemon, zest finely grated, (optional)
pinch cayenne pepper
60g freshly grated parmesan
1 large egg white
4 eggs
sea salt

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  2. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Snap the woody ends off the asparagus, then blanch the spears in the boiling water for about a minute and drain well. The asparagus will, of course, finish cooking in the oven later, but I prefer to take the raw edge off it first. If you’re short of time, though, you could skip this step.
  3. Meanwhile, melt the butter and lightly brush a baking tray with a little of it. Pour the rest of the butter into a wide, shallow dish and add the breadcrumbs, lemon zest (if using), cayenne, a pinch of salt and all except 2 tablespoons of the parmesan. Mix well. In another bowl, lightly whisk the egg white with a pinch of salt, just to break it down enough to coat the asparagus spears.
  4. Toss the asparagus spears first in the egg white and then in the parmesan crumbs, coating them well. Place them on the buttered baking tray in a single layer.
  5. Put the tray in the oven and bake the asparagus until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Turn the tray around if some spears seem more golden than others, then scatter over the remaining 2 tablespoons of parmesan and cook for another 6–8 minutes or until golden and crisp.
  6. When the asparagus is coming up to its last few minutes in the oven, bring a saucepan of water to the boil and soft-boil the eggs.
  7. Serve the eggs in egg cups, with the asparagus soldiers alongside, ready for dipping in the yolk.
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