Asparagus. Wrapped in pancetta. And grilled until the pancetta shares it's juicy porkiness with the asparagus and then crisps up. Top that with a little orange dressing and a spinkle of thyme. Nirvana.
We made this recently as a side to go with some grilled fish. But this is one of those things you could sit down in front of a platter of and go to town. It's that good.
Aside from the big flavor, this is really easy and quick to put together. You'll want the biggest, fattest asparagus you can find. Otherwise, those little pencil-thin spears will turn to charcoal before the pancetta gets crisped. If you use the really big spears, they'll be perfectly cooked, with just a little snap left by the time the pancetta cooks and crisps on them on the grill.
You can even wrap the pancetta around the asparagus ahead of time (up to the night before) and keep them in the fridge. Three tips: be sure to wrap the pancetta around each spear as tightly as you can; refrigerate the wrapped spears for at least 30 minutes to an hour before grilling -- they won't unravel that way; and use skewers to make sets of two asparagus spears each for easier turning on the grill. We ran two skewers, spaced about an inch and a half apart, through sets of two asparagus spears, inserted horizontally. That way, you can grab the skewers and quickly flip them over. Much easier than chasing the individual spears all over the grill. I also noticed that when my husband tried putting in the skewers, the asparagus spears kept breaking apart. Instead of shoving them in with brute force, try twisting the skewer as it goes in. Didn't take as much effort and I didn't break a single spear that way.
You could probably also skip the skewers and just roast these under the broiler or in a grill pan for almost the same effect.
The dressing or "citronette" goes together really quickly with only orange zest and juice, mustard, olive oil, and salt and pepper. The thyme gets sprinkled over the top at the end.
This would be great at a party as a finger food or goes well with anything grilled.
I thought two pounds of asparagus would leave plenty of leftovers when served for four people. But we scarfed these up, so be prepared.
Grilled Pancetta-Wrapped Asparagus with Citrus
2 pounds large asparagus spears, ends trimmed or snapped off
3/4 pound very thinly sliced pancetta (one slice for each asparagus spear)
zest and juice of one large organic orange
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste (remember the pancetta is salty)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, stripped from stems
Ahead of time (the night before or at least 30-60 minute before grilling), wrap each asparagus spear with one slice of pancetta. Wrap as tightly as you can. You can even wrap your hand around each finished one and give it a little squeeze to sort of glue it together. Cover and refrigerate until ready to grill. Before grilling, insert the skewers, about 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart into sets of two asparagus spears each.
Make dressing: combine the orange juice, mustard, and olive oil in a small bowl. Whisk together.
Grill the asparagus over moderate heat on the grill until the spears are slightly tender and the pancetta is crisp, about 5 minutes. Use the skewers to flip them.
Pull the skewers from the asparagus and serve on a platter. Drizzle the dressing over the top and sprinkle with thyme.
Serves 4-6,(depending on how greedy you are).
Adapted from Mario Batali in Food & Wine, May 2008.