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Asparagus with Sugared Almonds and Piquillo Peppers

Asparagus with Sugared Almonds and Piquillo Peppers by chef Thomas Keller

One of the secrets to keeping green vegetables a vivid colour is in using a technique I call big-pot blanching. Blanching green vegetables in a big stockpot with a lot of boiling water and a good amount of salt (about 1 cup per gallon of water) allows the water to maintain a boil once the vegetables are added and cook them more quickly. The salt not only seasons the vegetables, in this case asparagus, but also helps prevent the colour from leaching into the water.

Begin checking the asparagus after 3 minutes. The cooking time can vary greatly, depending on the size of the asparagus.
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• 32 (about 2 pounds) medium asparagus
• Coarse salt
• 1/4 cup Piquillo peppers, preferably oil packed, finely diced
• 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
• Freshly ground black pepper
• Sugared Almonds (see below)

Bring a large Copper-Core stockpot of water to a boil. Add enough salt for the water to taste like the ocean, we recommend 1 cup of salt for every gallon of water used. Prepare an ice bath.

Meanwhile, to prepare the asparagus line the work surface with a piece of parchment to catch the asparagus peelings (this will allow for an easy clean up). Place a raised container, bottom up over the work surface. This surface will act as a small “table” to peel the asparagus without breaking off the tip. Set the tip and most of the stalk on the surface. Hold the bottom end of the asparagus with one hand and with the other; peel the asparagus from just below the tip to about 1-inch from the bottom. Repeat with the remaining asparagus, letting the peels fall onto the parchment. Remove the container; throw away the parchment and the peels.

Remove the tough ends of the asparagus by holding the centre of each stalk with one hand and bending the bottom end of the stalk until it snaps off naturally. Discard the ends. Line up the asparagus spears, tips facing the same direction, and trim the ends so that the spears are of equal length.

Divide the asparagus into four equal piles with the tips facing the same direction. Cut 4 pieces of kitchen twine about 2 feet long and tie the spears into bundles, leaving a 3-inch end of twine free. Start by wrapping the twine securely around the top of the bundle (just below the tips), then wrap the remaining twine down and around the bottom, lastly tie the ends of twine together.

When the water is boiling, add the asparagus and cook for 4 to 6 minutes (depending on the diameter of the asparagus), or until they are just tender. Transfer the asparagus bundles to the ice bath. When they are cold, drain them on paper towels.

For the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, combine the peppers, olive oil and vinegar then salt and pepper to taste. Remove the strings from the asparagus bundles and arrange one bundle on each serving plate. Spoon the vinaigrette and peppers over the asparagus, drizzling some of the vinaigrette on the plate. Sprinkle with sugared almonds.

Serves 4 

Sugared Almonds

Resist the temptation to drain these almonds on paper towels immediately after frying. They will stick to the paper towels.

• 1/2 cup slivered almonds
• Canola oil
• Powdered sugar, in a shaker or small strainer

Bring a small Copper-Core sauce pan of water to a boil. Place 1/2 inch of oil in a small sauté pan and bring the oil to 350°F. Place a baking sheet or tray near the oil. Dust the sides and bottom of a medium sized metal bowl with a generous coating of powdered sugar.

When the water is boiling, add the almonds and blanch for 10 seconds. Drain in a strainer and shake well to remove all excess water. Place the hot nuts in the bowl of sugar. Dust the top of the nuts with more sugar and swirl the pan to coat the nuts. Add another one or two dustings of sugar. Although the sugar will melt from the heat of the nuts, they should be visibly coated.

Depending on the size of the pan you are using, you may want to cook half the almonds at a time. Place the nuts in a skimmer or spider and carefully lower them into the hot oil, then pull them out, repeat once or twice to evaporate any water, which may cause the oil to spurt.

Move the almonds in the oil to brown evenly, then remove them with a skimmer or spider to drain, spreading them out on the baking sheet. Once cool, quickly drain the nuts on paper towels to remove any excess oil. Store the sugared almonds in an airtight container.

Makes a 1/2 cup

Chef Thomas Keller's tip



"Piquillo peppers are lightly smoked red peppers from the Basque region of Spain. They are worth seeking out, but if you can not find them, you can substitute roasted red peppers, or even a jar of pimentos."
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