(Mass Appeal) – While most of us know it as one of the best springtime vegetables, did you know that asparagus is a perennial plant that’s a member of the lily family? Whether you knew that or not, you probably know asparagus as delicious and here to share a unique recipe is cookbook author and chef extraordinaire, Betty Rosbottom.

Simple, yet elegant this recipe for blanched asparagus spears that are drizzled with brown butter (known as beurre noisette in French cuisine) are sprinkled with a flavorful mix of toasted hazelnuts, golden bread crumbs, orange zest, and chives. Asparagus prepared this way can be used as a first course or a side for a spring meal.

This dish takes less than 30 minutes, start to finish to cook. You can put together the hazelnut and bread crumb topping a couple of hours ahead. At serving time, simply melt the butter until it becomes a rich dark brown and blanch the asparagus. Then all that is needed is a quick assembly.

– 1/3 cup toasted bread crumbs (Recipe follows.)
– 1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts (See cooking tip.)
– 1 tablespoon grated orange zest (zest from 1 large navel orange)
– 1 tablespoon chopped chives

-1 1/2 pounds slim asparagus with tough base ends snapped off or cut off and discarded
– Kosher salt
– 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
– Fleur de sel or other sea salt, optional

  1. Prepare the bread crumbs as directed in the recipe below. Measure 1/3 cup, and add to a medium mixing bowl (Store extra crumbs in a self-sealing plastic bag at room temperature for up to a week.)
  2. Add hazelnuts, orange zest, and chives to bowl with bread crumbs and toss to mix well.s (Mixture can be prepared 2 hours ahead; cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature.)
  3. Place butter in a small to medium heavy saucepan over medium heat. Heat butter until it foams and the milk solids in the bottom of the pan start to turn golden brown. This process should take about 2 minutes, but watch carefully as cooking time can vary depending on pan and intensity of the heat. Set aside.
  4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add asparagus and 2 teaspoons salt and cook at a good simmer until asparagus are tender when pierced with a sharp knife, 3 to 4 minutes depending on thickness of the spears. Remove asparagus to a colander, drain them, and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel.
  5. Arrange asparagus spears in a row on a platter. Brush them with the warm butter, and sprinkle, if using, with fleur de sel. (If you don’t have sea salt, season with kosher salt.) Spoon the bread crumb /hazelnut mixture down the middle of the spears. Place any extra mixture in a small bowl for serving with a spoon. Serves 5 to 6

Toasted Bread Crumbs

Half or less of a good-quality peasant or country bread (sourdough works particularly well) with crusts removed
1 tbsp olive or canola oil

  1. In a food processor, process enough slices to make 1 cup coarse crumbs.
  2. Heat the oil in a medium, heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the crumbs and cook, stirring constantly, until they are crisp and rich golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. (Bread crumbs can be stored in a plastic self-sealing bag and refrigerated for up to one week.) Makes about 3/4 cup or more.

Cooking Tip: To toast hazelnuts, spread them on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a preheated 350° F oven until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Watch carefully so nuts do not burn. Remove and place nuts in a kitchen towel and rub off as much of the skins as possible