Archive for the ‘Southern New England’ Category

 

Here in New England, oysters are plentiful. We don’t just slurp ’em down: we go out and dig our own…we have our favorite buck-an-oyster bar for any given day of the week…and we debate over the best variety, from east coast to west, north to south.

 

oysters

Fresh oysters deserve an amazing cocktail sauce, and my recipe kicks butt: lots of horseradish, lots of flavor, and a secret ingredient: vodka. Not only does it give it a kick, it keeps it from freezing solid, so I can keep the cocktail sauce in the freezer until I need it.

2 cups ketchup
4 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Frank’s Red Hot, or other hot pepper sauce
5 grinds of fresh black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon good quality vodka, like Tito’s

Combine all the ingredients. Store in a tight plastic container in the freezer.

 

Fresh shucked oysters with pickled red onion ice.

Freshly shucked oysters with pickled red onion ice.

 

When I’m in Portland, Maine, I visit one of the best oyster bars in the country: Eventide. Besides some wickedly creative dishes, they consistently have a fantastic variety of fresh oysters to choose from. And they offer a variety of “accoutrements” to go with them: anything from a red wine mignonette to kimchee ice. My favorite is the pickled red onion ice. All you need is a shot glass with a freshly shucked oyster inside, a half-shot of chilled vodka on top, and some pickled red onion ice, and you’ve got the best oyster shooter on planet Earth. I even suggested the shooter to the manager at Eventide. It has yet to make it to the menu. (But I remain hopeful!)

 

An oyster shooter with pickled red onion shaved ice. Bottoms up!

An oyster shooter with pickled red onion ice. Bottoms up!

 

I’ve managed to come up with a pretty good version of the pickled red onion ice at home, and I serve it alongside my cocktail sauce.

2 large red onions
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

 

Peel and quarter the onions. Drop them in a medium-sized pot and cover with about a quart of water. Bring it to a boil and cook it down until it has reduced to a cup of concentrated onion water after straining.

Bring the strained onion water back to the stove, and on medium heat, add the sugar and vinegar, stirring. When the sugar dissolves, remove it from the heat and let it cool to room temperature before pouring it into a container and placing it in the freezer.

When it’s time to eat oysters, remove the block of red onion ice from its container, and, using a fine metal grater, shave the ice over the top of the freshly shucked oysters and devour immediately!

 

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It’s #NationalFrenchFryDay so what better way to celebrate than to talk about the Parmesan truffle fries we recently had at The Capital Grille?

 

The best.

 

My daughter and I have been going to The Capital Grille in Providence, RI, every few months for what we call a “fodder-dodder dinner” for several years now. It’s a great opportunity for us to chat, have a few laughs, and enjoy a great meal.

But with the pandemic, a lot has changed…

No valet parking. (It’s one of the great deals in Providence because it’s always free at The Capital Grille.) It meant we had to drive around the corner to a parking lot. No big deal…there were spaces reserved for Capital Grille customers.

Here in Rhode Island, indoor dining is a somewhat recent event. And even though the state says it’s OK, and even though I really want to support my local restaurants, I still hesitate dining indoors everywhere. But certain restaurants, like The Capital Grille, I know will do things right.

Wearing masks. Social distancing. Extra diligence with cleanliness, although this place has always been spotless. And hey, what a surprise, not a single customer complaining about the extra measures taken for everyone’s safety. No one’s “rights” were threatened.

All the employees wore masks, and we took ours off only once we got seated at our “usual” table. (We sit in the bar area at one of the small high-top tables. The bar seats were all removed, and the few tables that were left in the bar area were spread far apart.) If we needed to use the restrooms, the masks went back on while walking through the restaurant.

The menu was limited. The bar menu, my personal favorite, was gone. Some of the small bar plates were listed under appetizers, but a few items, like the tenderloin sliders, lamb lollipops, and most significantly, the burgers, were not.

Since my daughter always ordered a wedge salad, and a cheeseburger with bacon and Parmesan truffle fries, she was a bit bummed that no burgers were on the menu. But it only took her a second to decide that a filet mignon was a good choice, and it came out a perfect medium-rare, and was devoured in minutes.

Although I very often order seafood at the Capital Grille, I went for the gusto a had the 22-oz. bone-in ribeye…also cooked perfectly.

Always a great time at The Capital Grille!

 

We split a wedge salad to start (there’s never a problem with them dividing the salad and bringing it to the table on 2 separate plates), and then we discussed what sides we should order. For my daughter, the much-loved Parmesan truffle fries were a no-brainer. I tried to go for something green and healthier, but let’s face it: a huge dish of creamed spinach or brussels sprouts with chunks of bacon is hardly low-calorie. So I decided to one-up her order of fries by getting the larger serving for the table. Steak and fries…what could be better?

A Shirley Temple for her and a Stoli Elit martini for me made the meal complete. Despite being really full, we ordered the amazing cheesecake to go, to enjoy the next day.

We may never completely return to “normal,” whatever that is. But it looks like The Capital Grille is rising to the challenge, and we’ll be back!

 

 

Butter and cheese. Can anything be better?

Little by little, asparagus season is winding down. I’ve had a month of gorging (and sharing with friends.) It’s time to let some of the stalks grow tall, and open up into the beautiful bushy asparagus ferns that will decorate the garden all summer. It’s important to leave these ferns alone, because they’re storing up energy for the next season. I let them turn brown and fall over when colder weather arrives, only removing them the following spring before the new season starts. That assures that my asparagus roots are re-charged for another amazing season. Asparagus is such a low-maintenance crop; it’s definitely one of this veggies every lazy gardener should grow.

I still have bags of asparagus in my fridge, and I enjoy it in a variety of ways: I love it raw, chopped into salads, pickled, oven-roasted, and in pasta dishes.

This is a great side dish with any main course like a big slab of meat, and has special meaning to me because my cousin first introduced me to asparagus with this recipe when I was just a kid. She passed away many years ago, but I think of her every time I make this simple but delicious dish.

You can use almost any grated “parmesan” cheese, but nothing beats real Parmigiano Reggiano that you freshly grate yourself.

 

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1 lb. fresh asparagus spears
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

 

 

The easy way to trim an asparagus spear is to grab the thicker end between two fingers and bend it. It will snap at the point where the tough part ends and the softer, edible part begins. I toss the bottoms into my compost pile.

I heat the butter and oil together in a pan and then add the asparagus spears, cooking over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until al dente. (You don’t want them mushy.)

While the asparagus is still in the pan, I sprinkle the Parmigiano Reggiano on top, letting it melt a bit. I season with sea salt (I prefer Flour de Sel) and freshly cracked black pepper.

That’s it! With fresh garden asparagus, it’s all you need! I ate this batch right out of the pan!

 

 

Here in New England, oysters are plentiful. We don’t just slurp ’em down: we go out and dig our own…we have our favorite buck-an-oyster bar for any given day of the week…and we debate over the best variety, from east coast to west, north to south.

So when a friend of ours who lives on Cape Cod dropped off about 5 dozen Barnstable oysters she just dug that morning, it was cause to celebrate.

oysters

Fresh oysters deserve an amazing cocktail sauce, and my recipe kicks butt: lots of horseradish, lots of flavor, and a secret ingredient: vodka. Not only does it give it a kick, it keeps it from freezing solid, so I can keep the cocktail sauce in the freezer until I need it.

2 cups ketchup
4 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Frank’s Red Hot, or other hot pepper sauce
5 grinds of fresh black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon good quality vodka, like Tito’s

Combine all the ingredients. Store in a tight plastic container in the freezer.

 

Fresh shucked oysters with pickled red onion ice.

Freshly shucked oysters with pickled red onion ice.

 

When I’m in Portland, Maine, I visit one of the best oyster bars in the country: Eventide. Besides some wickedly creative dishes, they consistently have a fantastic variety of fresh oysters to choose from. And they offer a variety of “accoutrements” to go with them: anything from a red wine mignonette to kimchee ice. My favorite is the pickled red onion ice. All you need is a shot glass with a freshly shucked oyster inside, a half-shot of chilled vodka on top, and some pickled red onion ice, and you’ve got the best oyster shooter on planet Earth. I even suggested the shooter to the manager at Eventide. It has yet to make it to the menu. (But I remain hopeful!)

 

An oyster shooter with pickled red onion shaved ice. Bottoms up!

An oyster shooter with pickled red onion ice. Bottoms up!

 

I’ve managed to come up with a pretty good version of the pickled red onion ice at home, and I serve it alongside my cocktail sauce.

2 large red onions
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

 

Peel and quarter the onions. Drop them in a medium-sized pot and cover with about a quart of water. Bring it to a boil and cook it down until it has reduced to a cup of concentrated onion water after straining.

Bring the strained onion water back to the stove, and on medium heat, add the sugar and vinegar, stirring. When the sugar dissolves, remove it from the heat and let it cool to room temperature before pouring it into a container and placing it in the freezer.

When it’s time to eat oysters, remove the block of red onion ice from its container, and, using a fine metal grater, shave the ice over the top of the freshly shucked oysters and devour immediately!

 

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One of the best reasons to visit Rhode Island in the summertime is Block Island. Ferries sail from Point Judith, RI as well as Newport, and Fall River, MA. You can even grab one from New London, CT and Montauk, NY. For me, Point Judith, though on the other side of the state, is the most convenient, because I can grab the high-speed ferry and be there in 30 minutes. For someone that’s not crazy about being on a boat, it’s as fast and as smooth as it gets!

Block Island used to be a well-kept secret, but on a recent weekend, it was clear that the secret was out! The island was packed, and it seemed like every ferry was loaded to the brim with day trippers. That also meant that parking spaces in Point Judith became quite the hassle, and on our trip, we actually got what amounted to the second-to-last parking space after being shut out of dozens of huge parking lots in the area.

Despite using the Waze app, which told me we’d get there on time, we had no idea we’d be searching for a parking space for a really long time. Finding that second-to-last space, and running to the boat with our packs on our backs, we were literally the last people on the ferry.

So rule #1 about going to Block Island during peak tourist season: make reservations online, but still give yourself a lot more time than you think you’ll need to find a parking space!

My buddy, Scarpetti from 94HJY, our radio station in Providence, RI, was doing a live broadcast from Ballard’s the Saturday we traveled, and we hung out there for lunch. Great drinks, excellent food, live music, all on the beach: Ballard’s is just steps away from the ferry dock. It’s no surprise that many people that have been to Block Island have only been to Ballard’s and nowhere else!

 

We made it to Ballard’s! Time for a drink!

 

I was on Block Island with my daughter, who looks forward to our yearly trip to the island. I also do a live broadcast from Ballard’s, but this year my schedule changed and I couldn’t do it, so we figured we’d just skip the island this summer. But then we got really lucky, thanks to some friends with connections, and found a room for a single night. (In season, most hotels require a minimum 2-night stay, and usually, I book my room far in advance to get the best deal, but this was a last-minute travel decision.)

 

The Narragansett Inn. Nothing fancy, but all we needed.

 

We stayed at the Narragansett Inn, which is about a mile and a half from town. Totally basic: no AC, small rooms, shared baths, but it was clean and it was the only place that allowed us to spend 1 night. They also offered a really nice breakfast buffet, included in the room price.

 

Hangin’ at The Oar.

 

We had dinner at The Oar, a really popular restaurant and bar that is always jammin’, partly because they are world-famous for their mudslides. I had a couple on this trip, and I have to say that my memory of the mudslides was better than the real thing. They seemed a bit watered down this time, despite my ordering top-shelf booze in them. No matter, that didn’t stop me from getting a brain freeze!

 

Mudslide brain freeze!

 

The food at The Oar was great. My daughter enjoyed tacos, while I had a half-dozen Block Island oysters followed by one of their signature sushi rolls called the Candy Cane: shrimp tempura with tuna. It was delicious, and finding really good sushi on the island was a wonderful surprise.

 

The Candy Cane sushi roll.

 

Taxis run all over Block Island (no Ubers) and you really don’t wait very long for one to arrive. we took one back to town from The Oar, and did what everybody was doing: watched the last of the ferries return the daytrippers back home, and then walked around the various souvenir shops, finally grabbing some ice cream before heading back to the hotel.

 

The old Surf Hotel has been refurbished and is now the Block Island Beach House. We didn’t go inside…but it looks nice!

 

Back at the Narragansett Inn, we grabbed a couple of Adirondack chairs and watched the sunset before calling it a day.

 

Sunset on Block Island.

 

There’s lots to do on Block Island. You can rent bikes or mopeds…you can hike trails to remote beaches…you can party the night away, pub crawling to dozens of bars…you can rent entire homes and just enjoy the sea breezes and the peace and quiet…or you can stay in hotels and enjoy a bit more of the nightlife.

The secret to success with Block Island is to plan and book early. Off-season, the island is just as beautiful and not as crowded. And if you plan on bringing your car to the island, you literally need to be booking the car ferry in January!

 

First-run movies play at the theater, though sometime people have fun with the sign…

 

I’ve done all of it, from renting a house to staying in a variety of hotels. It’s all good and a really unique experience. Get to the Block!

One of our favorite restaurants here in Rhode Island is Fluke Newport in…well…Newport. We’ve dined there for years, but big changes happened last summer when they hired a new chef. We met Chef Eddie Montalvo just after he had arrived at Fluke, and we were impressed with his new menu.

We came back for another visit just over a month ago, and meeting Eddie again, we thought we would invite him and his family to our home someday for a visit.

Well, that “someday” is tomorrow, and the reality that I’m going to be cooking for a real chef for the first time in my life is making me a bit nervous!

I went to Twitter for some help. Since I follow a number of chefs, I asked the question: I’m cooking for a real chef for the first time. What’s the #1 tip you can give me? Only one chef answered, but it was none other than Andrew Zimmern, and he said simply: “Be yourself.” Be myself? Yeah…I think I can fake that!!!!

So I started thinking…Chef Eddie works with seafood all day at Fluke. Skip that. He’s Italian and makes amazing homemade pasta. Skip that. What do I love to cook and do pretty well…?

Barbecue!

I have a beautiful grass-fed Angus beef New Zealand brisket in my freezer. That’s what I need to make! A simple, comfort-food meal. Barbecued brisket…twice-baked sweet potatoes…a big old salad…and as an appetizer: my no-fail recipe for Oysters Rock-a-Fellow! (OK, I had to get a little seafood in there.)

When I smoke my brisket low-and-slow in my smoker, I use a coffee steak rub that I developed a couple of years ago. It gives a deep, rich crust to the meat that is just fantastic.

 

 

 

Low and slow is the way to go! Deliciously smokey and juicy.

 

Depending on the size of the brisket, you might need to double the recipe.

3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground coffee (use your favorite)
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

If the brisket is frozen, I like to thaw it a couple of days ahead of cooking it, rubbing it down with the coffee rub, and placing it in the fridge for about 24 hours to rest. I bring it out about an hour before smoking, to let the meat come back to room temperature, and then I place it in the smoker for about 12 hours at 225 degrees, smoking it with hickory wood.

When it’s done, I remove it from the smoker, and wrap in foil and let it rest at least 30 minutes before slicing diagonally against the grain of the meat. If I’m not serving it right away, I place the wrapped brisket in the oven at the lowest setting, about 150 degrees, just to keep it warm.

When I’m ready to serve, I always slice the brisket on the bias, against the grain of the meat.

 

Read my blog about Chef Eddie and Fluke here: https://livethelive.com/2018/07/08/fluke-in-newport-a-new-chef-brings-new-creativity/

Check out my Oysters Rock-a-Fellow recipe here: https://livethelive.com/2018/11/01/oysters-rock-a-fellow-improved/

I live one town over from Fall River, Massachusetts, and just down the road from New Bedford, Massachusetts, two thriving proud Portuguese communities. My daughter is in middle school, and she’s taking mandatory Portuguese language classes. We’ve got dozens of authentic Portuguese restaurants in the area, and even a well-stocked supermarket with its own bacalhau (salt cod) room: Portugalia Marketplace, in Fall River.

So when I first posted my recipe of Portuguese kale soup, I was told by many Portuguese friends that my soup wasn’t authentic so I couldn’t call it that. Fair enough. After all, my soup has far less carbs, fewer spices, and uses homemade stock instead of water. It may not be Portuguese, but it’s full of flavor.

My version of the classic Portuguese kale soup.

My version of the classic Portuguese kale soup.

4 cups home-made chicken or beef stock
4 cups water
1 cup lentils, rinsed in cold water
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, through a press
1 lb. chourico, peeled and chopped into small cubes (I use Mello’s, out of Fall River, Mass.)
1 large bunch organic kale
salt and pepper

Add the stock and water to a large pot. Heat until boiling. Add the lentils.

In a saucepan with a little olive oil or bacon fat, saute the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic for a few minutes. Add the chopped chourico and saute a few minutes more. Add the contents of the saute pan in the pot.

Wash and de-stem the kale, tearing the leaves into smaller pieces. Add the leaves to the pot and stir. The stems go in your compost pile. (You can also use them in a juicer.)

Cook the soup until the lentils are al dente. Taste and season for salt and pepper before serving.

 

 

My Portuguese pal, Paula, has a great soup recipe that has been passed down from her Mom. Her Mom even adds chicken feet to the stock, which Paula chooses to leave out. Like most Portuguese soup recipes I’ve seen, there’s a ton of carbs: often potatoes with pasta with a lot of beans. But it is good!

Paula’s Portuguese Soup

3 cans garbanzo beans
2 cans white cannellini beans
1 can pink beans
1 fennel bulb
Large bunch of kale
5-6 potatoes
1 cabbage
2 sticks hot chourico
Beef ribs
1 cup dry macaroni (elbows)
Red crushed pepper wet-optional

Drain and puree 3 cans of garbanzo beans in a food processor. Put the puree in a large pot with about a gallon of water.  Chop the chourico, and add it to the puree along with the ribs. Boil for 20 minutes. Chop the fennel bulb and cabbage into 2 inch squares.  Add the fennel and cabbage to soup and boil for 30 minutes.  Add the chopped kale, and boil for 30 minutes. Add the cubed potatoes and before the potatoes are done, add the remaining drained cans of beans. Add macaroni and cook for a short time at the end.

Those of us that live in New England understand the magnificence that is a fresh lobster. Nothing beats a Maine lobster pulled right out of the water, placed in a pot of boiling water, and devoured moments later with nothing but melted butter on the side.

 

 

I live in Rhode Island. Our waters are a bit warmer than Maine’s, but my friends at Sakonnet Lobster in Little Compton, literally footsteps from our rental home, Saule (www.sauleri.com…go to Homeaway.com listing #4711871) have the freshest lobster around.

 

At a recent gathering at our house, I fired up my brand new 200,000 BTU burner and grabbed my 82-quart lobster pot to cook a dozen lobsters.

An 82-quart pot means business!

 

Many people will argue that steaming lobsters is better than boiling them. I don’t find that to be true, certainly from the perspective of ease of cooking or the taste of the final product. Baked stuffed lobsters are delicious, but that’s a subject for a different time.

 

Using the outdoor burner method has several advantages. First, all the mess and smell stays out of the kitchen. Clean-up is much easier. Second, when cooking lobsters for a lot of people, the burners on the kitchen stove just don’t have what it takes to boil the water. And third, this method requires no back-breaking lifting of heavy pots full of water.

My buddy, Lee, has a PhD in Chemistry, and has been a lobster lover all his life. With a home in Maine now, he knows a thing or two about cooking lobster. Here’s his fool-proof formula…

Bring the pot of water to a full vigorous boil.
Keeping the flame on high, add the lobsters, which will quench the boil for a few minutes.
Cook for 17 minutes for the first pound + 1 minute per each additional pound of lobsters added. (For example, cooking four 1.25 lb lobsters = 21 minutes.)
The water soon comes back to a full boil and you can reduce heat slightly to avoid boil over.

 

 

Experienced lobster boilers will tell you that this cooking formula is pretty accurate, but you do have to adjust the time if the water doesn’t come back to the boil as quickly as you’d like. The lobsters are still cooking even if the water isn’t boiling. If you’ve got an overcrowded pot, you might need to cook things a little longer. An emptier pot: a little less. Play it by ear.

 

To those that get queasy when it comes to cooking lobsters, there are several ways to kill a lobster before it goes into the pot: Some people put them in the freezer to numb them. Others use a sharp knife and cut down right between the eyes. Some do both. Although people constantly argue about whether lobsters can feel pain or not, my scientist friends assure me that a lobster’s nervous system is no more complicated than an insect’s. Dropping them head-first into a pot of boiling water is the fastest, most humane way of killing them. And they don’t “scream.” That’s just air escaping from the body cavity.

 

Good to remember: if you overcook the lobster a little, no harm done. But if you undercook it, it’s pretty nasty.

 

 

All I need on the side is some melted salted butter.

 

Here in Southern New England, the most popular brand of chicken salad you can buy is called Willow Tree. They’ve made it for over 50 years, and people crave it like crack. And it’s good: moist and “mayonnaisey”.

But I’ve never been a fan of “secret” ingredients, and Willow Tree is full of ’em, so my task was to make something that was as good as Willow Tree, with known ingredients. I got close…real close! As always, I use pastured chicken and organic veggies when possible. I found that boiling the chicken breasts in stock instead of water keeps the meat more flavorful.

 

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1.5 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
4 pints salt-free chicken stock (I use home-made)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I live on Hellman’s)
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
2 tablespoons finely chopped Vidalia onion
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

 

Heat the chicken stock in a large pot. Bring to a boil and add the chicken breasts. Bring to a boil again, then simmer uncovered for about 7 minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot with a lid, and let the breasts sit in the pot for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the breasts to a cutting board and allow them to cool. Save the chicken stock for another use, like soup. (See below.)

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, celery, onion, brown sugar, granulated garlic, salt and pepper. Mix them thoroughly to combine.

When the chicken has cooled, shred the breast meat into bite-sized pieces and then transfer it into the bowl with the mayonnaise mixture. Mix thoroughly and chill before serving.

I love my chicken salad on a Martin’s Long Roll.

 

BONUS: I don’t waste the chicken stock left over in the pot. I chop some carrots, celery and onion and throw it in there. I reserve some of the chicken breast meat–just a bit–and throw it in there, too. I add a little salt and pepper, and a pinch of dried Bouquet Garni. I bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the veggies are al dente. Pasta or potatoes optional.

Makes an awesome chicken soup!

 

 

When asparagus is in season, it’s time to gorge. I’ve got it growing in my yard, and the patch gets bigger and happier every year with minimal maintenance…definitely one of those veggies every lazy gardener should grow.

I love it raw, chopped into salads, pickled, oven-roasted, and in pasta dishes. This is a great side dish with any main course slab of meat.

 

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1 lb. fresh asparagus spears
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
salt and pepper

The easy way to trim asparagus spears is to grab the thicker end between two fingers and bend it. It will snap at the point where the tough part ends and the softer, edible part begins. Toss the bottoms into your compost pile.

Heat the butter and oil in a pan and then add the asparagus spears. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until al dente. You don’t want them mushy.

While the asparagus is still in the pan, sprinkle the Parmigiano Reggiano on top, letting it melt a bit. Season with salt and pepper.

That’s it! With fresh garden asparagus, it’s all you need! I ate this batch right out of the pan!