Asparagus used to be one of those foods that I loved to eat restaurants, but rarely made at home. For some reason I thought it was difficult to prepare, or that you needed special equipment to do so.
Eventually I learned the error of my ways, and I've been happily cooking asparagus ever since. It's one of the few green vegetables J.D. actually enjoys. He's even purchased it himself! [J.D.'s note: It's true. I don't like green vegetables. Asparagus and peas — that's about it.]
Asparagus is probably already in your grocery store this spring. Some people believe the thin spears are more tender than the thicker ones, but that isn't necessarily so. Others prefer thick to thin because the inner core is juiciest.
Whichever you prefer, before you buy make sure that the cuts ends aren't completely dried out or woody-looking. Avoid limp asparagus, or browning spears. Also, be sure the spear tips are tightly closed and firm, meaning that they were harvested young, which is when they're at their best. If you buy your asparagus a day or two before you plan to use it, store it in the fridge with the cut ends standing in an inch of water.
There are those who recommend peeling asparagus (and you can buy fancy gadgets to do just that), but I prefer to just snap off the cut end to remove the tough, fibrous bits. To do this quickly, just wash the asparagus, then pick one spear and bend the cut end until it snaps off. This may be an inch or two from the end. Then, gather up the rest of the spears and make a cut approximately where your test-spear snapped.
My favorite asparagus is simple but tasty:
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. On a baking sheet, lay the asparagus spears side-by-side, like blades of grass. Using a pastry brush, coat them lightly with olive oil. Flip them over with your fingers and coat the other side. Then give them a moderate sprinkling of sea salt or kosher salt. Bake 6-10 minutes until bright green with hints of roasted color. Actual baking time will depend on how thick the spears are. Serve and enjoy.
Depending on your taste and what you're serving them with, you might enjoy adding one of the following to your asparagus once it has cooked:
- fresh black pepper
- a squirt of lemon juice
- red chili pepper flakes
- melted butter
- toasted sesame seeds
Whatever you choose, season lightly so that the roasted asparagus is the star of the show. And remember: leftovers are good chopped in a salad or cooked inside a panini sandwich with smoked cheese and sliced black forest ham.
Asparagus photo via dboy's Flickr stream.