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Spring forward in the kitchen with a tasty new asparagus recipe

Sarah Nasello says now's the time to try new ways to make the springtime favorite shine in this week's "Home with the Lost Italian" food column.

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Sarah's Pan-Fried Asparagus alla Siciliana features the popular spring vegetable topped with a savory tomato-olive blend of classic Sicilian flavors.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum
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FARGO — Spring is the season for fresh asparagus, and today’s Pan-Fried Asparagus alla Siciliana is one of my favorite, and most flavorful, ways to prepare this popular vegetable.

Fresh asparagus spears are pan-roasted until lightly golden yet still crisp-tender and topped with a warm medley of classic Sicilian ingredients, including tomatoes, Kalamata olives, anchovy, garlic and oregano.

This is a quick and simple side dish that can be on your table within 10 minutes, from start to finish. To achieve this efficiency, I cook the tomato topping in a separate pan from the asparagus so that I can prepare the two components simultaneously.

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Thin slices of garlic are sauteed in olive oil with a finely-chopped anchovy fillet to create the first layer of flavor for the topping. The anchovy adds incredible flavor to the dish and will nearly disappear as it cooks.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

I roast the asparagus spears in a large pan with a bit of extra-virgin olive oil first and toss them every couple minutes until they are lightly browned and crisp-tender (al dente). This takes about six to seven minutes over medium-low heat, which is enough time to cook the asparagus spears yet still leave a bit of snap in them, but not enough time for them to soften or become mushy.

As the asparagus cooks, in another, smaller pan I prepare the Sicilian topping. First, I saute thin slices of garlic in olive oil with one finely-chopped anchovy for two minutes, until the garlic browns just slightly and the anchovy has nearly dissolved. Anchovies are a staple flavor-builder in Sicilian cuisine, and they give this dish incredible depth of flavor.

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Cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives and dried oregano are added to the garlic-anchovy mixture and cooked over low heat until the tomatoes begin to blister and spill their juices.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Next, I stir in the cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives and oregano and then cover the pan and let the ingredients cook until the tomatoes begin to blister and release their juices. Since the anchovy has its own natural saltiness, I add just a pinch of kosher salt and black pepper to season the mixture.

Once ready, I remove the pan from the heat and keep it covered to retain its heat until the asparagus is done. You can prepare the topping in advance and reheat it before serving, and it would also make a terrific topping for bruschetta or flatbread pizza.

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Asparagus spears are sauteed in a large pan until lightly golden and crisp-tender to the bite.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

To serve the asparagus, I lay the spears out on a platter, stacking, if necessary, with the tips pointing in the same direction. Then, I spoon the tomato-olive topping in a line across the center of the spears, making sure to include all the juices from the pan. To finish the dish, I add a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of freshly squeezed lemon juice. This dish pairs beautifully with lighter proteins like fish, chicken and pork.

Simple, seasonal and filled with the delicious flavors of Sicily, Pan-Fried Asparagus alla Siciliana is a family-favorite in our home, and I hope you enjoy it, too. Buon appetito!

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Spoon the warm tomato-olive topping down the center of the asparagus spears.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Asparagus alla Siciliana

PRINT: Click here for a printer-friendly version of this recipe

Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 anchovy, finely chopped (optional)
½ pint cherry tomatoes, whole
¼ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and quartered
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch of kosher salt and black pepper
Freshly squeezed lemon juice (to taste)

Directions:
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Place half of the asparagus in the pan with the tips pointing in one direction. Place the remaining spears in the pan with the tips facing the opposite direction. Cover the pan and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 2 minutes, and then turn the spears over. Repeat this process 2 to 3 more times until the spears are lightly browned and crisp-tender.

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Meanwhile, prepare the topping as the asparagus cooks. In a medium saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-low heat for 1 minute. Add the garlic and anchovy fillet and cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the garlic is very lightly browned, and the anchovy has nearly dissolved.

Add the cherry tomatoes, olives, oregano and 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Toss to combine and cover the pan. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to blister, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover the pan and set aside.

Transfer the cooked asparagus to a serving platter and spoon the tomato-olive mixture over the top. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the entire dish and finish with a drizzle of fresh lemon juice.

Recipe Time Capsule:

This week in...

Recipes can be found with the article at InForum.com.
“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.

Related Topics: FOODRECIPES
“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.
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