Several years ago I was obsessed with getting a panini maker. OBSESSED I tells you. I'm not sure what spawned my desire but I was positive that my life would become exponentially better if I had one. I suppose that since wraps were no longer in fashion, America was
looking for it's next favorite sandwich sensation and paninis fit the
"Why do you need a panini grill?" Jessica asked me at the time. "Jessica," I explained condecendingly, "it's like a George Forman grill. But BETTER." Not only would I be able to grill chicken, steak, pork, what-have-you in practically no time at all, thanks to the top AND bottom heating elements, I would be able to make any number of panini sandwiches I wanted. The only thing that limited me was my imagination. After doing a little research, I found a panini grill at Crate and Barrel that lived up to my strict criteria of function and aesthetics and I convinced my parents to get it for me for my birthday. To go with it, I got two books on how to make interesting and delicious sandwiches. One of them, the fantastically writted Nancy Silverton's Sandwich Book, was full of tasteful, albeit oddly time-consuming and complicated recipes (such as a sandwich of slow-cooked broccoli that takes at least 2 hours to prepare and assemble). As such I never wound up making anything from the book and after using the panini grill a grand total of 4 times, I ended up storing it away next to my ice cream maker, never to be used again.
This past weeked I picked up several bunches of fresh asparagus from the farmers' market and though I didn't know what I would do with them, I figured that once I got home I'd come up with something. I looked through several cookbooks but nothing captured my fancy. I wanted to make a meal that celebrated the asparagus, that gave it the starring role, rather than relegating it to the side. I didn't feel like doing an asparagus risotto and I briefly considered making an asparagus tart, but the whole notion of flour and rolling dough was just too much. For some reason I pulled down Nancy's book and surprisingly, found exactly what I was looking for.
(For the asparagus)
20 stalks of large asparagus, tough ends cut off
1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
20 sprigs of fresh thyme
(For the eggs)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
pinch of Kosher salt
4 extra-large eggs
(For the sandwich)
4 slices of sourdough bread
1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced in half
3 ounces of Gruyere cheese, grated
4 slices of Prosciutto di Parma
Freshly cracked pepper
To roast the asparagus, adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Trim off the tough, woody ends of the asparagus and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt, tossing to coat, then scatter over the sprigs of thyme.
Roast in the oven for about 10 mintues, until the asparagus is tender to the tough, yet still firm in the center.
Next grill the bread. Preheat a cast iron grill pan over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Paint both sides of each slice of bread with a little more olive oil, place in the hot grill pan and toast for 3 to 6 minutes. You can use a heavy stock pot to press down the bread, resulting in nicer, darker grill marks. Flip the bread over and grill the other side. Once the bread is grilled, rub one side the the sliced garlic. Place the bread on a baking sheet, garlic side up and top each slice with 5 stalks of the roasted asparagus.
To poach the eggs, pour 8 cups of water to a rolling boil. Turn the heat down so that the water is just below a simmer and add the vinegar and salt. Crack an egg into a small heat-proof bowl, to check that the yold isn't broken. Slowly stir the water in one direction to create a whirlpool effect. Gently tip the bowl into water, letting egg slide into the water. Using a spoon, cover yolk with some of the egg white; repeat with remaining 3 eggs. Poach the eggs for 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. When eggs begin to become opaque, carefully transfer eggs to a plate to drain. Cupping the eggs in your hand, tip the plate to pour off the excess water.
Preheat the broiler. Place the eggs in the center of each slice of bread covered in the roasted asparagus and then sprinkle each egg with the grated Gruyere cheese.
Heat the sandwiches under the broiler for a minute or so, until the cheese is melted. Tear each slice of prosciutto in half and rumple it over each end of the sandwich. Place a sprig of thyme on each and then crack over some pepper.
An exquisite, melange of textures and flavors, this sandwich is a refined treat. The bread, edges crisp and with a subtle hint of garlic, provides the prefect stage for the tender asparagus, glistening with olive oil and specked with thyme leaves. Slicing though the feathery-light egg white shrouded in melted gruyere, a slow stream of golden yolk oozes out, slicking the asparagus and soaking the bread. Adding a light touch of richness is the delicate prosciutto, casually draped over the ends of the spears.
Although my eggs were, sadly, hideously deformed, the cheese and the prociutto did a nice job of concealing my substandard poaching prowess. The sandwich is light enough that Mark and I both, easily devoured seconds, as well as a healthy mound of white bean salad with green olives and tarragon.