Asparagus with Saffron Aioli
Asparagus spears are fantastic on the grill, which turns the flower ends crispy and charred while the stems remain tender. Saffron aioli adds a distinctive Mediterranean flair. Choose medium or thick asparagus spears; pencil-thin asparagus is hard to handle on the grill and burns easily. Saffron is a pungent and earthy spice that goes a long way in small amounts. Look for it in the spice aisle of your market and purchase saffron threads, rather than the powdered form, which loses flavor rapidly.
For the saffron aioli:
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1/4 tsp. saffron threads, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
- 1 to 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
- 1 1/2 lb. medium or thick asparagus
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, slivered
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 hard-cooked eggs
To make the aioli, pour the canola oil and olive oil into a measuring cup with a spout. In a blender or food processor, combine the egg yolks, mustard, garlic, saffron, salt and white pepper. Pulse several times until the garlic is pulverized. With the motor running, add the oils in a slow, steady stream. Stir in 1 Tbs. of the lemon juice. Stir in the remaining 1 Tbs. lemon juice if needed to thin the aioli; it should be the consistency of mayonnaise. Spoon into a serving bowl or individual ramekins, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Trim or snap off the tough ends of the asparagus, leaving each spear about 5 inches long. Using a vegetable peeler, peel the outer skin, starting 1 inch below the tip.
In a shallow dish, stir together the olive oil, garlic, lemon zest and lemon juice. Add the asparagus, turn to coat, and season with salt and pepper. Let stand for 10 minutes.
Prepare a medium-hot fire in a grill. Brush and oil the grill grate.
Grill the asparagus directly over medium-high heat, turning often, until the spears are crisp-tender and nicely grill-marked, 5 to 6 minutes.
Peel and halve the hard-cooked eggs. Remove the yolks and finely chop the yolks and whites separately.
Transfer the grilled asparagus to a platter and garnish with alternating bands of the chopped egg yolks and whites. Serve hot off the grill or at room temperature with the saffron aioli on the side. Serves 6 to 8.
Note: This recipe contains eggs that are not cooked. They run a risk of being infected with salmonella or other bacteria, which can lead to food poisoning. This risk is of most concern to small children, older people, pregnant women and anyone with a compromised immune system. If you have health and safety concerns, do not consume raw or partially cooked eggs; seek out a pasteurized egg product to replace them.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma On the Grill, by Willie Cooper (Oxmoor House, 2009).