Wine and Nibbles, Into the Night: The “Season” in Cortona has arrived, marked by the return of those who leave for part of the year, house guests, and friends who pass through to share an afternoon. The longer days and warmer temperatures encourage us to dine alfresco, enjoying the views and languid hours of comradery. It is not unusual to bump into someone at Saturday market or strolling along the Via Nazionale and invite them for late afternoon drinks…which often turns into an impromptu dinner. Here’s a game plan to keep things stress free and seemingly effortless.
*Start with a visit to Molesini Wine Shop to supply your house with Prosecco, whites, and reds. Order a case or more, and the wine will be delivered to your door. Always good to have chilled Prosecco and whites on hand.
* Visit Minimarket Lunghini to stock up on assorted salami, prosciutto, imported and domestic cheeses (buffalo mozzarella, fontina, and taleggio cheese are the staples), homemade chicken liver spread, smoked salmon, olives, stuffed peppadew peppers, and wonderful crackers, as well as focaccia and breads to use for bruschetta. Other than the bread, they have shelf life and guarantee you are ready to entertain.
*If possible, keep a melon, eggs, asparagus, arugula, tomatoes, and Parmesan on hand.
*Given what’s in your refrigerator and pantry, offer guests a platter of fresh melon bites wrapped in prosciutto, a bowl of olives, a selection of a couple of cheeses with crackers and some assorted salami. Add a bruschetta, if you wish, but this is sufficient unless you suddenly realize hours have slipped by and everyone needs something passing for a meal. This is when you make Asparagus Bismarck and serve it with fresh crusty bread and a simple arugula or Caprese salad. Life in Cortona is all about La Dolce Vita. Enjoy your guests and the setting, and most of all, be easy on yourself.
Serves 4 as a first course
This dish shows up on nearly every menu in Tuscan restaurants during asparagus season, and it’s no wonder: It’s easy, delicious, and satisfying as either a first course or a main course when served with salad and a crusty bread. The addition of truffles makes this dish fancy and memorable. The recipe is more of a procedure than an actual recipe, with the only tricky part being the timing as it comes together fast. Both the eggs and asparagus need to be perfect.
20-to-24 thick stalks of asparagus
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons/60 ml butter, divided
Optional: 2 tablespoons/30 ml sliced black truffles in oil (Tarfufo Estivo a Fette), divided
4 large eggs (use 8 eggs for a main course)
3 tablespoons/45ml finely grated Parmesan cheese
1. Prepare the asparagus: Snap off tough ends of asparagus, then peel the stems with a vegetable peeler, holding the tips. Place about 2” of water into a large pan. Bring to a boil, add ½ tablespoon of salt and the asparagus. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for approximately 2 minutes, until asparagus is still al dente. Remove from heat, drain, keeping asparagus in the pot, add 1 tablespoon of the butter and 1 tablespoon of the truffles if using. Gently toss to coat. Keep in the pan until eggs are ready.
2. Prepare the eggs: While asparagus water comes to a boil, place 3 tablespoons butter in a medium frying pan and melt over medium high heat. When frothy, crack eggs into the pan. You want the edges of the eggs to crisp. Season eggs with salt and pepper, reduce heat to medium. Put asparagus on to cook while you spoon the excess butter in the frying pan over the egg whites to help them set. You want cooked whites and runny yolks. Turn off the heat as soon as the whites set.
3. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the asparagus, gently toss, then place 5-to-6 stalks on each plate. Carefully place the egg (eggs) on top, drizzle with any butter in the pan, and top with optional truffle slices. Serve immediately, and hopefully with bread to sop up the juices.