Asparagus season is in full swing here in the Bay Area, and that means I’m buying a lot of it every week. I usually gravitate towards the fatter spears, but last week Simon pointed out some pencil-thin asparagus and thought it was the prettiest asparagus he ever did see. So we bought two bunches.
When I prepare the fatter asparagus, roasting or grilling it is my go-to method. But these little beauties were so skinny that I didn’t want to risk overcooking them. Plus, I wanted to create a new recipe for you, while asparagus is still popping up. Sautéing or steaming feels like the right way to go for skinny asparagus, and this recipe is a hybrid of both. But don’t worry- this recipe is all made in one skillet, and it all happens fast.
I am a notoriously lazy vegetable cooker; veggies that are more labor intensive have a tendency to go to my crisper to die. For this reason, my love for asparagus is pure – the prep could not be easier, and the cook time is short, especially with pencil thin spears.
Another benefit of pencil-thin asparagus: their stalks are more tender, so you don’t need to trim (or peel) as much off the bottoms.
Many recipes will tell you to hold the asparagus at either end and bend until it snaps, and discard the bottom part. My preferred method is essentially the same, but wastes less: Hold the asparagus at the bottom (woody end) and about 1/2 way down from the spear top. Then bend until it snaps. It will break closer to the bottom, and you’ll have more on your plate and less in the trash.
One more tip: Don’t waste your time repeating this process with every single spear. Just line them up on a cutting board, and cut the rest of them where the first one snapped.
Ingredients you need to make pencil thin asparagus with brown butter and pistachios:
That’s it, just a handful of ingredients and the finished dish is absolutely sublime.
Here’s how to make this lovely pencil-thin asparagus:
- Prep the asparagus by snapping off the woody end of one spear, and then cutting the rest of the bunch at that point.
- Boil a bit of salted water in a large skillet and quickly steam the asparagus. Remove to a clean kitchen towel.
- Throw some butter into the skillet, and when it’s nearly as brown as you want it, add the chopped pistachios to give them an extra toast.
- Add the asparagus back in and toss to coat with the pistachio brown butter. Finish with a squeeze of lemon and serve.
- 1 1/2 pounds pencil-thin asparagus, woody ends trimmed off (see note)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup pistachios, finely chopped
- zest and juice of one lemon
- flaky salt
- In a large skillet with a lid over high heat, bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil. Add a big pinch of salt.
- Lay out a clean kitchen towel.
- Once the water is boiling, add the asparagus and cover. Steam / boil for 1-2 minutes (depending on thickness)
- Remove the asparagus to the towel and spread them out in something close to a single layer. Drain the water and return the skillet to the burner, over medium heat.
- Once the skillet is completely dry, add the butter and – keeping a close eye on it – let it darken in color. You want it to be fragrant and the color of golden caramel, but if you cross the line into burnt it will bitter.
- Once it’s just about the color you want, stir in the pistachios. Toast them for 30 seconds or so, just to give them a little extra color and bring out their flavors.
- Return the asparagus to the skillet, along with the lemon zest and juice, and toss to coast with the brown butter.
- Transfer to a platter and sprinkle with some flaky salt.
Hold the asparagus at the bottom (woody end) and about 1/2 way down from the spear top. Then bend until it snaps. It will break closer to the bottom, and you’ll have more on your plate and less in the trash.
Keywords: asparagus, skinny asparagus, pencil-thin asparagus
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