Asparagi alla Milanese
When Julius Caesar added Milan to the occupied territories of the Roman Empire, Valerio Leonte, one of the city’s leaders, felt obliged to offer the emperor a meal at his home as a sign of friendship and diplomacy. Caesar, always quick to establish rapport, gladly accepted the invitation. Unlike his suspicious generals, he knew that sitting at the dinner table with the Milanese would yield immediate agreement on a wide range of issues.
In fact, when a course of steamed asparagus with burnt butter was presented to the Roman guests, the generals were so offended that they drew their daggers from beneath their togas. In those times in Rome, asparagus was the food of the most miserable citizens and butter was used only for women’s cosmetics.
Caesar intervened by directing harsh words toward his followers: “Who shows the most discourtesy? Who offers the best of what they have to their guests, and who threatens friends and insults them in their own house?”
The banquet continued and, once the generals had tasted the asparagus prepared the Milanese way, they knew they had been served a grand dish rather than an insult. Caesar was so impressed that he asked for the recipe and, told that the butter was made in Lodi, conferred honorary Roman citizenship on all its inhabitants.
- 600g asparagus
- 125g butter
- 150g parmesan, grated
Cut any woody part at the base of the asparagus. Cook by immersing them, base first, in rapidly boiling water till tender but still a little al dente- this should take about 3 minutes depending on thickness. Place the asparagus on a warm serving plate. Meanwhile, place the butter on high heat in a small pot until it has gone a nut-brown colour. At this stage turn off the heat, sprinkle the asparagus with the grated Parmesan, then spoon the sizzling butter onto the lot. Serve immediately.
Serves 4 as a first course.