Wednesday, May 23, 2012

For a spring day

There's nothing that screams Spring more than fresh, green asparagus.

About a month ago, I ate my first asparagus of the year. It was more of a ritual rather than a simple act of eating. It began with the careful selection of the bunch, they had to be firm, smooth and brightly-colored with tightly-closed tips, and when I brought them home, I immediately placed them upright in a large jar, filled it halfway with water and put them in the fridge.

They didn't stay there long. The next day, I chopped off that woody part of the stem, even though they were so tender there was hardly anything to cut off. I thought about boiling them or steaming them but no, they were so young they deserved more than that. They deserved to be eaten raw.

There's nothing more delicious than raw, fresh green asparagus.

I poured some Greek extra virgin olive oil in a small ramekin, placed the sea salt next to it as well as the black pepper mill and we started eating spear after spear just like that. Dipping and salting and biting, dipping, salting, biting. It's the small things, I tell you.
I could have paired them with lamb chops or shaved them into a salad with mint and some sautéed lemony fresh peas, which I actually did the following week, but just like that, raw, they satisfied every craving I had for them.

Asparagus will make their appearance on my dinner table many more times until the season is over. I foresee asparagus tartines with walnuts and pecorino; this salad, which is one of my all-time favorites; grilled, charred asparagus, which is a beautiful thing, full of smoky flavor and nutty goodness; oven-roasted with Spanish smoked paprika, either hot or sweet; asparagus pesto, draped over an oven-baked piece of fish, which I actually made this past week and I'm still daydreaming about. I have to share it with you soon.

But let me tell you about this dish. Blanched asparagus with a lemon sabayon. There's no surprises when it comes to pairing asparagus with lemon, it's a match made in heaven, but pairing them with a lemon sabayon, is like walking on cloud nine. Literally, your taste buds will feel like they're inside a little savory fluffy cloud.

Sabayon is the French version of the Italian zabaglione which is a foamy, custard- or mousse-like dessert that is made by whisking eggs, sugar and white wine over a bain-marie until lightly thickened and frothy. This is a savory version. One that incorporates butter and lemon into the fluffy egg mixture, resulting in a light sauce, reminiscent of the Greek avgolemono.

The lightness of the sabayon, its foamy, smooth like lightly whipped cream texture and its subtle lemon flavor is such a perfect pairing with the nutty earthiness and slight sweetness of the green asparagus. With a glass of white wine and some good sourdough bread, there's nothing I'd rather eat for lunch on a hot spring day.

Green Asparagus with Lemon Sabayon
Adapted, just a tad, from Raymond Blanc

This savory lemon sabayon can not only be paired with asparagus but also green beans, pan-fried fish fillets like sea bass or salmon, or poached chicken.

Making sabayon is pretty straightforward but you need to be careful not to scramble the eggs. Keep the water of the bain-marie at a bare simmer. The sabayon mustn't get too hot during mixing, otherwise it will become grainy. The whole process is rather quick though, so you don't need to worry too much.

Yield: 4-6 salad servings


for the sabayon
3 large egg yolks (around 60 g)
60 ml cold water
50 g unsalted butter, melted, hot
2 tsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Sea salt
Freshly ground white pepper

for the asparagus
1-1 ½ kg fresh, green asparagus
a little extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground white pepper

Special equipment: hand-held mixer, fine sieve


for the sabayon

In a large, heatproof bowl, add the egg yolks and the cold water. Beat with a hand-held mixer on high speed, until the mixture becomes pale in color and fluffy in texture and quadruples or even quintuples in volume.

Set the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water (bain-marie). The bottom of the bowl must not come in contact with the simmering water otherwise the eggs will scramble. Continue to beat the mixture with the hand-held mixer, on medium speed, until it starts to thicken, for about 7 minutes. If the mixture begins to steam, remove the bowl from the heat, continue beating the mixture and return after it has cooled down a bit.
When the mixture reaches the soft-ribbon stage (when you lift up the beater and let the sauce drip inside the bowl, you can see a ribbon forming on the surface), remove the bowl from over the pan and slowly beat in the hot melted butter (hand-held mixer on low speed). Add the lemon juice and beat again for 10 seconds. Season with sea salt and freshly ground white pepper and have a taste. Adjust seasoning if needed.

Pass the sabayon through a fine sieve to get rid of any small pieces of egg. Leave it aside until needed. You should end up with a fluffy, aerated mixture that is light and smooth.

for the asparagus
You can read here on how to clean, peel and trim the asparagus.
I didn't trim mine because they were very young and tender spears.

Fill a large pot with water and bring it to the boil. Add a little salt to the water, followed by the asparagus. Blanch them for 3-4 minutes, or until they are tender, without putting the lid on the pan. You can test them by inserting the tip of a knife into one of the spears. Be careful not to boil them for too long, they need to be a little crunchy.
Drain the asparagus and immediately run them under cold running water to cool them down and to stop them from cooking further.

Note: Blanching means to plunge raw vegetables or fruit into boiling water, and boil them for a few seconds to a few minutes (depending on the fruit/vegetable), until they slightly soften but still retain their crisp texture and vivid color.

In a large plate, drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil and add a sprinkling of sea salt. Grind some white pepper on top and coat the asparagus lightly with the olive oil. You don't want them to be swimming in olive oil though.
Alternatively, you can just sprinkle them with a little salt and pepper and forget about the olive oil. The dish will be lighter. Your choice.

Arrange the asparagus spears onto a large serving plate and drizzle over the lemon sabayon. Serve immediately.

You can keep the sabayon in the refrigerator for a day, it is equally delicious served cold as it is warm. It will probably lose some of its fluffiness but none of its flavor.


  1. Such a perfect dish for spring. We've been buying so much asparagus at the farm. Love it!

  2. So beautiful and fresh - I will be trying this soon. I also love the sound of the asparagus tartines with walnuts and pecorino. Yum! Thanks!

  3. I am going to cook them like this next time, with that sabayon! I can't think of a better way to enjoy them ; hope I can find fresh wild ones too, with a bit of luck! Never had them raw, come to think of it, sounds like a nice experience!

  4. lush sabayon--I can see the air, little bubbles, whipped into it. when you have such tender fresh asparagus, the simplest preparations, as you know, are the best. that said, I am intrigued with your asparagus pesto!

  5. Love this recipe! Asparagus just came into season here, so I hope to try this recipe myself soon! Also, wanted to let you know that I featured this recipe on my blog today:

  6. El — they are so delicious aren't they? You know, in Greece not too many people like them!

    David — the tartines are delicious. Don't need a recipe for this one, just blanch some asparagus, toss them in good olive oil, top them with thin slices of pecorino and some chopped walnuts!

    Joumana — they are delicious raw, given that they're very young and tender. You must give it a try!

    Nancy — I'll post the recipe soon!

    thecookssister — I'm sure you'll love it!
    Thank you for the feature!

  7. Avgolemono is a favourite of mine. Usually like hollandaise with perfect asparagus (so glad you made it centre stage) but the sabayon looks even lighter. This sort of food is my favourite.

  8. Gorgeous pictures- these asparagus look like things of perfection- cooked exactly right, with that heavenly looking sabayon!!

  9. Thank you for the tip on how to store asparagus.

  10. Wow, it looks so yummy! It is quite healthy too. Eating healthy is really very important in order to have a good physique. I try such recipes on weekends but take my herbal homemade Green drink regularly. These drinks are very beneficial for the health.