Recipe: Luxury tips for a single cook

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THE PROBLEM with world-famous restaurants is that the chef might change, the cooking deteriorate, and the restaurant remain world famous. This appears to be the case at Greens in San Francisco, known here largely through the resoundingly popular Greens Cookbook by the restaurant's former chef, Deborah Madison, and Edward Espe Brown (Bantam, pounds 16.99).

Its sequel, Fields of Greens, published this month in America and due out here in August (Bantam, pounds 17.99), is by the current chef, Annie Somerville. It seems unlikely that Somerville is in the same class as Madison. For evidence of decline, look no further than this recent treatment of asparagus.

At the restaurant the week before last, thick, woody spears were undercooked, then topped with what looked and tasted like Birds Eye pea and carrot mix. Deborah Madison, whose cooking gave rise to the reputation of book and restaurant, is now hundreds of miles away in New Mexico. She would be unlikely to serve such a silly combination.

This is not to say asparagus must be served unadorned. There is a vivid and generous urge to garnish it in this week's winning recipe, a northern Italian dish from Maria Teresa Bertoglio of Hammersmith, west London. The difference is that each successive ingredient compliments the taste of the next, and all blend pleasingly: the spears are dusted with parmesan, then topped with fried eggs.

Ms Bertoglio will win a bottle of Tokay Pinot Gris Reserve Rolly Gassman 1988 from Bibendum Wines in north London.

Some will call this dish asparagi alla Milanese, as does one (anonymous) contributor. Others, such as Ms Bertoglio, credit it to Piedmont, where much asparagus is grown.

'This is a high cholesterol dish,' she writes, 'but the asparagus season is short.' Her instructions call for a kitchen aid some of us might not possess - a husband. These instructions have been adapted so that one cook might adequately carry them out.

Ms Bertoglio cooks the asparagus in bundles of 10 or so spears, which can later be untied as pre-counted portions. This has a more important logic: stand the bundles upright in a deep pot, so the thick bottoms are boiled and delicate tips steamed.

Another tip: when frying the egg, the butter is less likely to burn if you melt it in a dash of olive oil and the flavours fuse agreeably. Lastly, as an option, a Piedmontese friend, Carla Vaschetto of the Alba restaurant in the City of London, recommends lightly frying the asparagus after boiling.

Asparagi alla Piemontese

Serves 2

Ingredients: 1lb (450g) fresh asparagus

salt to taste

2 heaped tbs freshly grated parmesan

2 fresh free-range eggs

1oz (28g) butter

Preparation: Warm plates in a low oven. Boil water in a deep pot. If the spears are extremely woody at the base, trim slightly, then add to pan as the water hits a rolling boil. Cook until tender and bright, adding salt to taste at the end of cooking. As they near done-ness, heat butter (with or without olive oil) and prepare to fry eggs. Remove asparagus, drain well, untie and reserve on warm plates. Fry eggs. As they cook, quickly dust asparagus with parmesan. Top with fried eggs, adding the frying butter as long as it is not overly brown. Season and serve immediately with good crusty bread, and dip spears into the egg yolks as you eat.

Next week: more asparagus. Recipes are welcome for our new category: afternoon teas. It could be a scone, or a sourdough roll with goat's cheese and chillies baked inside. One thing is fixed: as evenings grow longer, it should tide you over the long haul between lunch and dinner. The prize will be a 1lb tin of Darjeeling Best from the Algerian Coffee Stores, 52 Old Compton Street, London W1 (071-437 2480). Send your entries to Emily Green, Recipe, Weekend Features, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.