Working in the restaurant is emotionally exhausting. There are days when I think to myself “Who am I? What business do I have coming here, to work in a Michelin-starred restaurant, all “Eat, Pray, Love,” and thinking I’m going to just hop into the kitchen and be trussing Spanish quails all day, smooth sailing. In the day-to-day reality, I’m constantly being told what I’m doing wrong and that I need to do XYZ faster, better, more efficiently. (A recent favorite during service, when I failed to have the arugula out and ready to plate with asparagus: “CATI,” (pronounced Kah-tee, the Spanish way of saying my name) “I don’t understand – in what world are you living!?”) I vacillate between wanting to be that person who confidently floats through the kitchen and whom everyone knows they can rely on to get the job done right, and wanting to say “to hell with it all” and “I don’t need this”. But I know that the latter response is just a self-defense mechanism, a fear of failing, an inability to acknowledge that yes, I am new at this, and no, I’m not going to be nearly perfect, not yet, and maybe never.
If I’m chided for making a seemingly simple mistake, I must swallow my pride and focus on the task at hand – creating a memorable experience for each person who comes to Nerua to dine. Like the chef said to the staff a few days ago, if clients come to our restaurant to celebrate the birth of their child and we serve over-salted food or gluten to a client with an intolerance, it matters – it may put a damper on their special occasion. And at the end of the day, the client is why we’re there.
What does this rant have to do with asparagus? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. But it’s a (wonderful) green vegetable, it’s summery, and although it makes your pee smell funny due to asparagusic acid, we’re beyond that guys and you should be eating it now.
Up until 2 weeks ago, I was unaware of the distinction between wild green asparagus (“espárragos trigueros“) and cultivated green asparagus (“espárragos verdes”). The former is generally thinner and has a slightly bitter taste. The latter is thicker and has a sweeter taste. And white asparagus, as a result of being hidden from the sun and therefore prevented from undergoing photosynthesis, is most bitter of all. Kind of like me – hidden from the sunshine, unseasonably white and more bitter than my photosynthesized friends sharing their photos of Montauk on Instagram.
This is more of a combination of ingredients than a recipe. You can plate it as you like, but the key is the perfect combination of the triple A’s: Asparagus, Avocado and Arugula. This dish is inspired by one we serve at Nerua, where the preparation is lengthier and additional components are unsurprisingly more innovative – the base is a streak of aromatic banana juice and the plate is drizzled with green wheat juice (think: fresh cut grass on a hot summer day). But a simplified approach works for the home kitchen. Cocinamos!
- Break (don’t cut) the bottoms of a handful of wild asparagus – this is so you only remove the unnecessary, inedible part of the stalk, no more and no less.
- Wash thoroughly, dry.
- Add olive oil to hot pan (medium-high heat).
- Sauté until asparagus heads barely start to get color.
- Add a bit of water to the pan and cover with lid to steam for a minute or until firm to your taste.
- Plate! Finish with a drizzle of olive oil, vinaigrette (pictured: EVOO, balsamic, tahini) or lemon juice and a sprinkle of course salt.