This poached eggs, asparagus, pancetta and parmesan recipe is one of our favourite spring time recipes, and a classic that works for breakfast or brunch. Light and healthy, it doesn’t leave you feeling full, and with a glass of bubbly it leaves you feeling fabulous.
Here in Venice if you get up early in the morning on a weekday, it’s a completely different world to that of the one that you’ll see a few hours later.
There are no umbrellas aloft with tour groups trailing behind. There are no strollers blocking narrow laneways as the leader of the family tries to interpret a map. No calls from restaurant waiters that they have a ‘special table’ and a menu of pre-cooked pan-Italian favourites and undrinkable house wine.
The tourism mechanisms are still warming up, and it won’t be until much later that they reach a peak with that last gondola ride, that last snap from the Rialto Bridge, and that last sip of limoncello at that ‘lovely restaurant’.
If you get up early, at the start of the day you’ll see delivery drivers deftly manoeuvring their boats through narrow canals, and impeccably dressed local workers – both male and female – sipping a strong espresso in a stand-up café, which they may have with a pastry.
A little later, local workers will stop for snacks such as cicchetti (pronounced chi-KET-tee) and while many writers say that this Venetian version of Spanish tapas are enjoyed on a pub crawl later in the day, this means nothing to the local workers who generally eat them with a glass of prosecco or a spritz in the mid-morning. Nobody really eats eggs here.
So where does that leave my Weekend Eggs dish? Up the canal in a gondola without a paddle.
But given that the first third of our grand tour has taken place in the spring in the Northern Hemisphere, where asparagus has been firmly on the menu, I thought it was time to do something with asparagi and to do a favourite brunch dish of mine – poached eggs with asparagus, pancetta and parmesan.
Poached Eggs, Asparagus, Pancetta and Parmesan recipe
This is a genius dish. The soft yolk of the poached egg acts like a sauce for the asparagus, the pancetta adds a salty flavour and some texture with its crunch, and the parmesan cheese rounds out the flavours.
The trickiest thing is poaching the eggs. You can read about that here.
But lately I’ve been having great poaching success with water gently bubbling just under a boil in a deep sauté pan, eggs tipped very gently and slowly into the water, and then turning the heat up a little to stop them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Timed for 2 minutes for really soft eggs. No vinegar. No fuss. No voodoo.
If for health reasons you can’t have soft eggs, sorry, but the dish doesn’t really work with firm eggs as the egg yolk is essentially the sauce. Can’t eat eggs? Just cook the asparagus with some good salt and olive oil. It’s still delicious.
In Venice as I write this, there is plenty of local asparagus or asparagi in the markets. Thick green asparagus, thin green (or ‘wild’) asparagus, and white asparagus, but the white is not local.
The pancetta is local, however, the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese of course only comes from Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and Bologna in Emilia-Romagna, and Mantova in Lombardia.
This is a perfect spring dish and one we never tire of, even if you wouldn’t actually find it outside of a five-star hotel breakfast room (if you’re lucky) in Venice!
In the second part of this post (hey, who knew that it would take two posts to write about poached eggs with asparagus?), I’ll post a more contemporary version of the dish that I came up with, which I think is a great one to impress your guests with for brunch.
- extra large farm fresh free range eggs (if you’re famished you can use 2 eggs per person)
- 1 bunch of fresh asparagus (I usually allow about 6 pieces per person)
- 50 grams Pancetta (the really thinly sliced variety)
- 1 handful of grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Olive oil
- A few ice cubes
- Bring a pasta pot of water to a good rolling boil. Add a good pinch of salt.
- Trim the stalks of your asparagus. The best way to tell when you’re at the start of the less ‘woody’ part of the asparagus is to let your knife ‘fall’ onto the asparagus as you go up the stem. When the knife leaves a little ‘cut’ in the asparagus, that’s the place to trim it.
- Fill a bowl large enough to hold the asparagus with water and add the ice cubes. We want the asparagus to stop cooking as soon as we pull them out of the boiling water. This helps keep the colour a nice bright green too.
- Add the asparagus to the pasta pot. If you have the thin variety of asparagus leave them in for one minute. The thick variety leave in the water for two minutes.
- When the time is up, transfer the asparagus to the bowl with the ice cubes.
- Put a grill pan on full heat and add the pancetta. You want the pancetta to be crispy, so don’t be shy with the heat. When the pancetta is almost starting to burn it should be quite crispy. Transfer to a plate with some paper towels on it to soak up some of the fat.
- Leaving the grill pan on, pat dry and add the asparagus.
- In a deep sauté pan filled near the brim with water, bring the water to the boil, and then turn the heat down until you have a light boil, with bubbles coming to the surface like you get with water in a freshly opened bottle of sparkling mineral water.
- Break each egg into a small cup with a handle and slide the cup into the water. Let water enter the cup for a few seconds (you’ll see the white of the egg start to cook) and then gently tip the egg into the pan. Do the same with the next egg and start your timer.
- When the time is up use a slotted spoon to remove the eggs. Place on a plate while you finish the dish.
- When the asparagus is grilled nicely, remove it and place it on your plates. Carefully slide the egg on top, and place the pancetta around the egg. Add the Parmigiano Reggiano.
- This is great with some Prosecco, so if you’ve managed to not mess up the poached eggs, have a toast! If not, drown your sorrows with some Prosecco anyway.