Makes 6 servings
Spring hasn’t quite sprung, the grass is barely riz. But spring is definitely on the way and I’m ready. The orange pith (the white part between the orange zest and pulp) gives a slightly bitter edge to this delicious sauce that is as fresh as the asparagus itself. It makes a beautiful first course or a side dish for grilled or roasted meats.
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian parsley leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
1½ pounds thick-but-not-too-thick asparagus
Cut two very thin slices from the center of the orange. Cut each slice into 8 pie-shaped wedges. Squeeze the orange and reserve 2 tablespoons of the juice.
Grind the orange wedges, pine nuts and parsley in a mortar until coarsely pureed. (Or skip ahead to the food processor directions.) Beat the olive oil, lemon juice, reserved orange juice, and salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl until blended. Drizzle this mixture into the pine nut mixture while continuing to grind . Transfer the sauce to a jar with a tight-fitting lid or to a small bowl. (To make the sauce in a food processor, place the orange wedges, pine nuts and parsley in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Chop until coarse, using quick pulses. Add the olive oil-orange juice mixture in a steady stream while continuing to pulse. The mixture should be finely chopped but not smooth. Transfer to a bowl and beat in salt and pepper to taste.)
When ready to serve, trim the asparagus: Bend the asparagus until they break. Discard the tough lower part. If you like, peel the bottom 1 or 2 inches of the stalks.
Pour 1 inch of water into a large skillet with a tight-fitting lid. Add 2 tablespoons salt. Heat over high heat to boiling. Add the asparagus. (If the asparagus is more than 3 layers deep, cook in 2 batches.) Cover the skillet and cook the asparagus until tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain.
Arrange the asparagus on a serving platter. Shake or whisk the sauce until thoroughly blended and pour over the asparagus. Serve hot or at room temperature.