July 2, 2007
Sorry, Chicken, Asparagus
is the Star of This Meal
They say that in springtime, a young man’s fancy turns
towards love. We know this isn’t true, because the way to a man’s heart
is really through his stomach, a far more powerful truism. If this is
so, it is reasonable to conclude that come springtime, a young man’s
fancy turns towards meat charred over open flame.
Yet, there is something else. When the sun breaks the
hammerlock of winter, it also starts a-growing certain other things
designed as if on purpose, to sit warmly in the stomach.
What does one say of asparagus? The ability to eat it, the
desire to eat it, the association of it with spring is a sure sign that
someone has passed from childhood to adulthood. It is, along with the
artichoke, one of the first things ripen in spring, and its presence in
roadside stands and farmers’ markets usually heralds the beginning of
what most of us understand to be the season of fresh vegetables. Glory
There are lots of ways to cook asparagus, and a
particularly tasty treat is to cook it alongside meat on an open flame.
Brushed with olive oil and dusted with salt and pepper, it is a reminder
not to overlook the plant kingdom.
What to do with it when it rains? Best not to let it sit
and lose its crispness (this can be preserved by standing it, tip-side
up, in a small bowl of fresh water. Better still to render it into a
decadent pasta dish.
Take your average chicken breast. You look at the thing,
and it looks flaccid and ineffectual. It is bland, possessing not the
robust flavor of the thigh or drumstick. It is the mid-level manager in
the world of meat.
Cut your chicken breast into one-inch chunks and brown it
in butter and minced garlic over a moderate heat. It should be mostly
cooked, but not fully, by the time you’re finished.
This is important to keep in mind, because that will
guarantee that at the end when you sit down to eat, you won’t have
chicken that is tough and chewy even as everything else will practically
melt in your mouth. Talk about life out of balance!
While the chicken slowly browns, attend to your pasta and
The pasta is a simple decision. Although typically, it is
wise to support kitchen symmetry, the presence of this particular form
of sauce suggests a thicker, longer piece of pasta. If the word linguine
is going through your head, give yourself a pat on the back. You are
capable of mind-reading based solely on the written word.
Cut the bottoms off, and cut it into one-inch pieces. In
all things, symmetry is important. In this case, we will shortly break
that with our choice of pasta, but here we want the chicken to be no
bigger than the asparagus.
Although meat is typically the star of most meals, it is
not here. But, we wish our middleman to go through dinner believing that
this is all about finding a rich, velvety way to deliver him to your
stomach. (A question you should never allow to reach his ears is this –
if he is such a bigshot, why does he need a rich, velvety sauce as a
delivery vehicle?). Successful cooking is as much an expression of
inter-food politics as it is skill with a spatula and frying pan.
Once your chicken is browned, add the asparagus and also a
healthy amount of heavy cream. Here, depending on how much you wish to
risk causing your heart to explode, you may substitute milk with a level
of fat according to your personal sense of good health, and also a
handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese.
There are people who say that shredded Parmesan available
by the tub is no different than what you grate yourself. If you know
these people, feel pity for them. There is no comparison, and anyone
deluded into thinking otherwise is a sad, sad soul . . . perhaps even a
clown with a frown on his face (is there anyone sadder?).
Stir them together until they are cooked down to a
viscosity of what is typically portrayed in motion picture films as
molten hot magma.
By this time, your linguine should be a nice, firm al
dente. Combine the two, and use asparagus chunks speared on your fork as
a rod around which to twist the linguine, which should be dripping with
rich cream sauce.
© 2007 North Star Writers
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