When asparagus is very young and fresh, the only respectable way to cook it is quickly and simply, so that the fresh flavor and texture is allowed to shine. When it isn't so fresh, pairing asparagus with fresh leek greens and new potatoes and sautÚing them both in butter is a lovely thing to do. The bright herbal flavor of the leeks revives the lagging flavor of older asparagus, and the pleasant hint of caramel adds another, subtle dimension that enhances rather than cloaks the dish.
1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus, washed, peeled, and trimmed as directed on pages 62-63
Green tops of 2 large leeks, washed and trimmed
1/2 pound small red new potatoes, cooked as directed on page 68, but not peeled
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and black pepper in a peppermill
1. Cut the asparagus crosswise into 1-inch lengths, keeping the tips separate from the stems. Set them aside. Slice the leek leaves crosswise about 1/4 inch thick. Slice the potatoes into 1/4-inch thick rounds.
2. Put the butter in a skillet or saute pan that will comfortably hold all the ingredients and turn on the heat to medium high. When the butter is melted, add the potatoes and asparagus stems. SautÚ, tossing them frequently, until the potatoes are beginning to turn golden, about 3 minutes.
3. Add the leek greens and asparagus tips, a healthy pinch of salt, and a liberal grinding of pepper. Saute, shaking the pan and tossing the ingredients frequently, until the asparagus is tender and beginning to brown a little. It should still be firm and bright green. Turn off the heat. Taste and correct the seasonings, and serve at once.
Note: There is no substitute for butter here. No other fat will caramelize the asparagus or give the dish that rich, buttery-brown flavor. Though the flavor would in no way be the same, the only substitutes that I could suggest might be extra virgin olive oil or peanut oil.
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Excerpted from BEANS GREENS AND SWEET GEORGIA PEACHES by Damon Lee Fowler Copyright© 1998 by Damon Lee Fowler. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.