Saturday, May 14, 2011


By Sheila Connolly

It’s the tail end of asparagus season.  I was reminded of this because we drove from New Jersey to Bethesda for Malice Domestic and happened to pass a field where the pickers were busy harvesting the last of the crop.  I immediately made a note to stop on the way back and snag whatever was left, at one of the many farm stands along Rt. 322.  Which is why I ended up with about five pounds of fresh asparagus.

I grew up eating asparagus.  One house we lived in had evidently once had an asparagus patch (something I haven’t tried growing yet) that had gone to seed, and while wandering in the local woods and fields I occasionally came upon a lonely stalk, most often gone to seed.  I loved eating it, but for years my mother insisted that we (not she) pull the little triangular whatever they ares (immature leaves?) and peel the bottoms.  Too much work!  It was years later that I discovered that it was fine to eat the leaves, and Julia Child showed me that if you just snap the stems, they conveniently break at the woody part, leaving only the tender parts of the stalk behind so you can eat the whole thing.

Traditionally we steamed or boiled the stalks with a dash of salt until they were tender but still bright green, dumped a lot of butter on them, and ate them with our fingers.  To my mind that’s still the best way (but then, I’ll eat anything with butter on it, including graham crackers, so what do I know?).  I will admit that I’ve heard many good things about baked asparagus:  clean them up a bit, lay them on a baking sheet, sprinkle with oil and salt, and bake in a hot oven for 15-20 minutes.  You can amp up the basic version with a sprinkle of Parmesan.  A fancier alternative includes baking with a mustard-cream sauce, with breadcrumbs and Parmesan scattered over the top.

Curiously, it’s harder to find recipes for cooking asparagus with something else.  Sure, there are plenty of recipes for asparagus soup.  There are suggestions for thinly-sliced asparagus in a salad, or even thin peelings of the vegetable masquerading as flat pasta.  There are stir-fries.  Interesting concepts, but the poor stalk is getting lost in here, along with some of its special flavor.

But I’ll have to admit, I was craving something a bit more substantial (maybe after consuming the first few pounds of that fresh, naked, butter-drenched crop), with a bit of protein, and maybe a dash of cheese. Sort of “the last of winter meets the first of spring.” I knew chicken wouldn’t overpower the asparagus, and I thought it would stand up well to a creamy sauce.  I should warn you that I have a tendency to improvise with recipes, tasting as I go, and borrowing freely from everything from my mother to last week’s paper.  The good news is, you can change a dish any way you want; the bad news is, sometimes it doesn’t work and you’re left to patch things up as best you can. 

So here’s my version of Asparagus and Chicken Pasta (notice that it’s a one-dish meal—fewer dishes!)

1 pound fresh asparagus (thick or thin--your choice)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts  (if they’re small, use three, but nowadays it looks to me like a single breast will feed a family of four)
2 medium shallots
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Four servings of your favorite pasta

Snap the woody portions off a pound (or more) of asparagus and slice the remainder on the diagonal in roughly 2” pieces.

Slice the chicken breasts into strips about half an inch thick, so the slices are roughly the same size as the asparagus pieces.  Season the slices with salt and pepper.

Peel the shallots and chop them roughly.  Sauté in butter, then add the chicken and sauté until just cooked.  Add the sliced asparagus and cover.  Cook on medium heat until the asparagus is tender enough to yield to a knife tip—the timing will vary, depending on how thick your asparagus is). 

Pour one cup heavy cream (who said this was a healthy dish?  I just promised you easy!) and cook until cream is well-heated and slightly thickened (without overcooking everything else).  Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if you wish.

Prepare your favorite pasta.  What I had in my rather bare larder was some tube-y spaghetti, and that worked fine.  Place the pasta in shallow bowls and spoon the asparagus-chicken mixture over it.

Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  You can also add chopped fresh parsley if you like.  Heck, you can add all sorts of things—as long as you don’t overcook the asparagus!  Let it speak for itself.

Happy Spring!


  1. You had me at "heavy cream"... LOL. Sounds great!

  2. I love one-dish cooking! And I can never have enough asparagus, especially when it's still in season. This looks simple and delicious--thanks, Sheila!

  3. Oh yum! Pass the chicken and asparagus, please.

    I have two bunches in my fridge right now. I always feel a little bit guilty snapping the stems because it sometimes seems a lot of asparagus is discarded, but it works.

    ~ Krista

  4. This is very pretty, practical and in season! I love asparagus and can't wait to give it a try.

  5. I am forbidden to make and serve asparagus here. I think it was included in my wedding vows LOL My husband will eat just about anything -- except asparagus. But this sounds great. Think a local restaurant will take kindly to me handing them the recipe and asking for it?

  6. Love the image of you walking through a field and finding that lone stalk of asparagus. Marc and I enjoy it every year. Our most common way to make it is cutting the stalks into thirds and sautéing in olive oil and garlic, sometimes finishing with a little squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of grated Pecorino Romano. Can't wait to try your recipe. With good speed and good taste, it looks like a very satisfying dinner. Thanks, Sheila!

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  7. Yum!!! I just bought 3 pounds today at our local farmer's roadside stand...was hoping for strawberries but got aparagus instead! Will whip this up for supper looks lovely and springy...though I feel the need to add some 'shrooms ;-)
    Thanks, Sheila!