Thursday, April 10, 2008

Kids Make Asparagus Frittata

Asparagus has a special place in the heart of the vegetable gardener. Being a perenniel, asparagus needs only to be planted once. Then, without much additional care, it will produce an abundance of lovely, fresh spears of asparagus year after year--for 15 years or more.

Kids, it turns out, love asparagus as well. They like to look at it's funny, spear-like shape. They like to hold it. They like to snap off the ends. And they like to saw it into pieces with their plastic knives.

Asparagus has a flavor unique in the world of vegetables and, as anyone who has eaten it knows, asparagus also has a lasting effect that shows up in a strange, odiferous way later in the bathroom. According to food authority Harold McGee, humans metabolize a sulfur-conatining substance--aspargusic acid--a chemical closely related to the essence of skunk spray, methanethiol. Because of genetic variations, not all people produce methanethiol, but most do. Kids just giggle when you mention it. But for adults, it's always a comfort to know you can tell when spring has arrived by the smell of your pee.

Making an asparagus frittata is so quick and easy I decided we should prepare asparagus two ways in our classes this week. First we cooked whole spears using my favorite method--poaching them in a large skillet filled with simmering, salted water.

I showed the kids how to find the tough part of the asparagus stem by bending it until it snaps. After we trimmed all the asparagus, we cooked it until there was just a tiny bit of resistance to the tooth. The cooked asparagus are plunged immediately into a bath of cold water, then are drained on paper towels. We dressed the asparagus in a red wine-mustard vinaigrette. They very quickly disappeared.

For the frittata, we used 12 eggs and my big, non-stick skillet. But the procedure is the same for a smaller frittata. Grease the skillet lightly and begin heating it on the stove. Meanwhile, beat the eggs well.

For a six-egg frittata, have four spears of asparagus on hand, cooked and cut into 3/4-inch pieces. Reserve the asparagus tips. Scatter the asparagus pieces in the skillet, then pour in the eggs. As the eggs cook on the bottom, lift around the edges with a heat-proof spatula so that the uncooked egg runs underneath. Continue this process until the egg is almost completely cooked. Arrange the asparagus tips on top, then set the skillet under the broiler to finish cooking.

The frittata is done when it is golden brown and rises to about twice its original size. To serve, cut the frittata into wedges, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and dress with grated Parmesan cheese. Consider serving it warm for breakfast or dinner, or as a room-temperatur appetizer or at the center of a composed salad. It also makes a dramatic display item on a Sunday brunch buffet, set on a ceramic stand and garnished with mustard blossoms.

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