Sometimes A Great Notion, Sometimes Not: Boiled Asparagus with Anchovy Spread and Tomato Basil Bruscetta

I had a strange craving the other night, a craving based on a picture. The picture’s in my River Cafe cookbook and it’s a picture of boiled asparagus with anchovy spread and garnished with Parmesan shavings. It looked something like this:

That’s a picture of my version, a version I made based on the very simple instructions. In my mind this would taste delicious because anchovies are in Caesar salad and Caesar salad is delicious. The asparagus is boiled until its tender and then the spread is made by combining butter, anchovies (about 3 or 4), lemon juice and pepper. Here’s the ingredients pre-assemblage:


To some people that may look like the nastiest picture ever, to others it may look like a potentially sophisticated combination. I mashed it all up and tasted it. Do you know what it tasted like? Butter and anchovies with lemon and pepper. In other words: kind of gross. This did not taste like Caesar salad. This was not delicious.

I tried to correct it a bit but it was what it was. I assembled it the way you see in the picture above and ate the asparagus which tasted fine and the anchovy butter gave it a very mild umph. Maybe my anchovies (which were oil packed) weren’t pungent enough? Maybe I needed salt-packed anchovies? I’m not sure. But I’m not sure I’ll ever find out because I’m not so eager to make this again.

And so sometimes a great notion–such as making anchovy butter–isn’t such a great notion at all. Other times, though, you have a great notion without realizing you’re having a great notion. I’m not sure what propelled me to buy tomatoes and garlic and basil and sourdough bread while shopping for the asparagus dish, but I did. I came home and used the Babbo cookbook to assemble a bruscetta topping.

Folks, I am frequently effusive here at the Amateur Gourmet. Some might say I gush too much (I’m seeing a doctor about that). And so you may want to take this with a grain of salt but this was dynamite delicious. And so simple! Check it:


That’s 5 plum tomatoes cut in half and cored and seeded (I used a soup spoon), cut into 1/4-inch cubes, and tossed with 3 cloves of chopped garlic (I like it garlicky), a bunch of basil leaves chiffonaded and then a splash of red wine vinegar, a heavier dose of olive oil (but not too much), salt and pepper. It’s that easy and it’ll knock your socks off. As my great-grandmother Helen would say: “It’s the cat’s pajamas and the snake’s hips.”

And as if that weren’t enough, though, I decided to have the hardcore bruscetta experience and I whipped out my portable electric grill.

“Yo Adam!” you say in my head. “I’ve been reading your site a long time! You have a portable electric grill?”

It’s true. A few years ago Cooks Illustrated (or was it Bon Apetit) reviewed a bunch of electric grills and voted this reasonably priced one the very best. I purchased it at Crate and Barrel and kept it on top of the fridge in Atlanta. Then one day I accidentally knocked it on the floor and the frame cracked but it still worked. I took it with me when I moved to New York and never took it out of its box. Until now!

Boy, is this a fun contraption. You just plug it in, it heats up (much like those George Foreman thingies only this is an open grill, not a press) and you’re ready to go. Here’s a slice of sourdough enjoying the grilling process:


It was great because the bread had those professional grill marks on it and it got all toasty and I barely had to do anything, except once or twice I pressed down.

The final assembly took very little effort. I took the bread off the grill, put it on a plate, drizzled some olive oil on it and then dressed with the tomatoes. Look mommy no hands!


Who’s your daddy? I am! And just to contextualize my effusiveness, I know I told you to make that cherry tomato sauce the other day but I think you should make this bruscetta even MORE than the tomato sauce because I liked it that much. You don’t need to do the whole grill thing, though it is a nice touch. Just chop those tomatoes and smack your lips. Unless you prefer anchovy butter in which case, you’re on your own!

(PS: I just had an idea for a bruscetta party! I can toast up lots of bread and make lots of toppings. Fun fun fun! I am a domestic goddess.)

11 thoughts on “Sometimes A Great Notion, Sometimes Not: Boiled Asparagus with Anchovy Spread and Tomato Basil Bruscetta”

  1. I make an anchovy “dressing” that’s very good on fish, among other things. Since it’s in a mayonnaise base, it would also be good on asparagus. Just save the lemon and pepper for garnish.

    As you dare:

    Anchovies packed in olive oil drained and patted dry

    Crushed garlic


    Red wine vinegar

    Throw it in the blender or use your immersion blender. If I want a little milder but richer version, I drizzle in some whipping cream while blending. You can blend by hand, but then you have to mash up the anchovies and really work to get it to emulsify.

    It also makes a great roquefort dressing, just crumble the cheese in to your taste and serve in on a salad. Especially good on a shrimp (or other seafood) salad.

    Very garlicky and complex from the anchovies, but most people don’t realize it’s anchovies that taste so good. Especially the no-fishee-no-fungee crowd. Heh.

  2. “It’s the cat’s pajamas…”

    My is a real phrase! And all this time I thought my Functional Genomics lecturer was…well, eccentric to say the least…

    I’m intrigued by the idea of a Bruschetta party. Tapas out, bruschetta in, eh? :-)

  3. Hi Adam – I am one of those people who saw the anchovy pre-assemblage and thought – a la Homer Simpson – “Mmmm…anchovy butter…” I’m wondering what the River Cafe dish was like – because I generally think they have some great looking dishes. But if you saved your ingredients, what you could do melt down your anchovy butter, toss it with your asparagus, and then grill it on your grill – until you get some nice browned crispy bits. You can skip the boiling next time – and just toss the raw aspargus with the anchovy butter and then grill. And then serve with the melted anchovy butter on the side as to dip. And the parmesan – try Microplaning it over your dish next time – you’ll get more flavour and a more cohesive texture with such fine stalks. But it all looks really good!

  4. MMM, that looks yummy! I love bruschetta! I had some a couple weeks ago with Kalamata olives in it and -HOLY COW! Oh yes, that was tasty.

  5. wonderful adam!

    i planned on making bruscetta for a wine party in a couple weeks.

    What sorts of toppings CAN one make?

    Red or white with bruscetta?

  6. I want to come to your bruscetta party!

    I make mine the same basic way, but I let the whole thing sit out overnight (covered with plastic wrap) so that the flavors blend even more. Then after I put the mixture on the bread, I add some goat cheese on top. It’s great! Give it a try…

  7. A great addition to your bruschetta are some finely chopped shallots a la Alice Waters.

    And rub the crostini with garlic cloves! Delish!

  8. “It’s the cat’s pajamas and the snake’s hips.”

    Wow. Now that’s a great phrase to pass down.

    Hmm, bruschetta … I’m going to go bathe in olive oil now.

  9. The rubbed garlic on the bread is a must try. Really as a garlic lover you will adore it. Also a simply treat that is ridiculously delicious (which I learned in Rome by the by) is a simple bruschetta made with toasted (or grilled!) bread, rubbed with garlic (lots) and then drizzled with nice green olive oil and sprinkled with a bit of rock salt. Oh. My. Delicious and hits any kind of savoury salt craving right between the eyes! (Great served with soup etc. in the winter as well).

  10. My sister rubs the bread with garlic twice :) then slathers it with garlic and basil goat cheese and then tops with the bruscetta mixture. You can’t talk to anyone close up for a couple of days but it’s worth it.

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