In Italian cookery terms, when you cook something “in fricassea”, it means that you add egg yolks that you have already mixed with lemon juice to a hot, cooked dish, at the very end, generally off the heat. The yolks thicken and become a velvety, lemony sauce that enrobe the other ingredients. The trick, obviously, is not to scramble them.It is a Northern Italian cookery technique that always delivers a subtle elegance to the final dish.
Typically, it is rabbit, veal, chicken and lamb, that are cooked “in fricassea” , the meat first being braised “in bianco”, without tomatoes.
Some vegetables too can be cooked “in fricassea”: artichokes, peas, mushrooms, carrots, courgettes, broad beans and asparagus.
The pattern is the same: you fry a little chopped onion (some garlic too, if you think it would work), without letting it take any colour, then you add your vegetables, tossing them around to soak up the fat; a splash of white whine, if you have it, adds an extra flavour and then some hot water goes in, to create a steamy environment. The pan is covered and the vegetables cook until tender. By the end, the dish should be moist but not soupy. Off the heat, you add some yolks already whisked with lemon juice, a little water to avoid any risk of the eggs scrambling, a knob of butter for creaminess and a shower of chopped herbs (parsley, mint, thyme, marjoram, oregano, whatever you have and that goes well with lemony flavours).
Asparagus are particularly suited to the fricassea treatment and now, in mid May, they are still abundant, cheap and good, here in Lucca.I had not cooked fricassea in many years, but I was suddenly reminded of it, by the great looking lemons for sale at my green grocers. On impulse, I bought a couple of these huge, Sicilian yellow globes and at home, my supper was an affair of 10 minutes. I had it with toasted bread and the contrast of textures and flavours was excellent.
My bunch of asparagus counted 16 spears and I ate them all by myself, with nothing else alongside – still, a generous plate. I would say, this is enough for two eaters, with another little dish.
Clean the asparagus, peeling them and discarding the woody ends. Cut them up in short lengths, 3 to 4 cm.
Fry a little finely chopped onion, about half a small one. It must not take colour but it must soften thoroughly: to this end, salt it straight away.
Add the asparagus, salt and toss them in the oil. If you have it, pour a splash of white wine: I used some fizzed-out beer and the dish turned out lovely too..
Add a little hot water to prevent them from drying out, cover the pot and cook until tender.
Meanwhile ,whisk 2 yolks with a little lemon juice, adding it by the teaspoon until you are happy. Obviously, you can always add more at the end, hence go easy now.
When the asparagus are done, the dish should be moist but not soupy.
Remove the pan from heat and let it rest uncovered for one minutes. Add the lemony yolks and stir well.
Add some room temperature water if the dish looks dry – you are aiming at a velvety sauce.
Add a little knob of butter and some fresh chopped herbs (parsley and mint for me).
Taste the dish: it might need extra lemon. A little grated pecorino on top, makes it richerServe with toasted bread.
Cooked chickpeas could be added too, to make for a more substantial dish as well as waxy potatoes, cooked separately and cubed.
Obviously, this could easily become a pasta sauce: you will have to increase the yolks, possibly.