Asparagus Parmesan makes a great antipasto or side dish paired with meat, poultry, and fish. Popular among home cooks and chefs is oven-roasting or baking the spears first, then dusting them with Parmesan cheese, as a variation on the classic dish. Asparagi alla Parmigiana is really very different, especially when prepared by Italian chefs in Emilia-Romagna, Italy. In restaurants, it is ideal for made-to-order servings for 1 to 4 people, so this technique is perfect for home cooks, too. All you need is one pan. Cook the asparagus in about 10 minutes on the cooktop. It's fast, it's easy, and cleanup is a breeze.
The term "alla parmigiana” means a dish prepared in the style of the city of Parma. Often this includes finishing the dish with a thin topping of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano. I like adding a bit of prosciutto crudo, making it even more authentic in Parma's cuisine. Blanch fresh asparagus spears first in a broad pan. Then in the same pan, simmer in broth and cream. This technique is called in padella. Sprinkle grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on top during the final minutes so it softens and delicately coats the top of the asparagus.
Asparagus Parmesan, Cooked in a Pan, is so delicious that I often serve it as the main dish. Carry the pan to the table and serve with a crunchy loaf of warm bread to soak up the luscious cream sauce. Toast with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, an herbaceous or grassy white wine, or sparkling white wine, then tuck into a true Parma-style seasonal specialty.
Cooking time is about 10 minutes.
Fresh asparagus spears (green, purple, and/or white)
Spring onion or shallot, finely chopped
Prosciutto crudo or ham, finely chopped
Chicken or vegetable broth, preferrably homemade
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
Grated aged Parmigiano-Reggiano
Chef's Tips: Selecting and Storing Asparagus in the Refrigerator: This cooking technique is best applied to medium or thick fresh asparagus spears. For even cooking, choose spears of similar thickness. Standup the fresh asparagus in a bowl or container with the ends immersed in cool shallow water, about one finger width high. Loosely-cover the asparagus with a bag so air circulates. When asparagus is really fresh, it lasts in the refrigerator up to a week or longer.
This recipe is very flexible, so include the amount of ingredients convenient for you. To prepare a large volume of fresh asparagus spears, blanch ahead of time, drain and dry, and store in a cool area for a few hours until orders arrive in the kitchen. Adjust cooking time according to the thickness of the spears, and your personal preference.
1. Blanching Asparagus: It is important to partially cook fresh asparagus spears before combining them with the broth and cream, so they cook faster in the broth and cream, and their juice does not overpower other ingredients in the dish. Keep flavors separate for optimum taste, texture, and appearance.
Trim the asparagus ends. If desired, peel the stalks with a vegetable peeler. Fill a large bowl or sheet pan with ice water and reserve. Select a broad non-stick pan or skillet that holds the asparagus spears in one layer if possible. In the pan or skillet, bring lightly salted water to a rolling boil, then immerse the asparagus spears. Initially, the spears float on the surface of the water. Within 1 to 2 minutes, they absorb the heat, partially drop down in the water, and their color darkens just a little. It is time to remove them now. Drain. Immediately plunge the asparagus spears in the ice water for 1 to 2 minutes, or run under cold water, to quickly stop the cooking and brighten the green color. Drain. The asparagus spears remain firm.
2. Cooking Asparagus in Padella: Using the same pan or skillet, melt some butter over low heat. Add the finely chopped spring onion or shallots and saute for several seconds until fragrant but not browned. Add the finely chopped prosciutto crudo or ham, stir for only a few seconds until fragrant but not browned. Turn off the heat. Lay the blanched asparagus spears flat in one layer. Pour in enough broth to cover the bottom one-fourth of the asparagus spears.
All green blanched asparagus spears…
Or alternate green and white blanched asparagus spears
Over high heat, bring the broth to a boil. Then decrease the heat to low and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes. Using tongs or forks, turn the spears over for even cooking.
Pour in enough heavy cream to immerse the asparagus spears by three-fourths. Season to taste with freshly grated nutmeg. (Salt should not be needed, since the prosciutto crudo or ham, broth, and cheese contain salt.)
Bring the cream to a boil. Decrease the heat to low and simmer for 2 to 4 minutes to barely cook the spears and reduce and thicken the cream. (Adjust the simmering time according to the thickness of the spears, and your preference.)
3. Top with Parmigiano-Reggiano: Once the cream reduces and thickens, sprinkle grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on top of the spears. Immediately cover the pan or skillet to contain the heat. Over medium heat, cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until the asparagus is cooked to your liking, the cheese is melted, and the cream reduces to a thick, glossy sauce. Remove the cover during the final few seconds of cooking. When finished, carry the pan to the dining table and serve. Or transfer the spears to serving plates, garnish with some cream sauce, and serve immediately.