Thursday, March 1, 2007

Roasted Asparagus

Lots of people don't like vegetables. These must be sad, lonely people -- vegetables are one of the greatest foods out there. I have a theory about why people aren't all for veggies: they're not the easiest things to cook. Overdone, most vegetables turn rubbery; underdone, they've got too much of a crunch and, well, a raw flavor. Asparagus is a great example. It's not the type of food that you can simply stick a fork in and proclaim "dinner's ready!" You have to taste a few stalks to really properly see if asparagus is ready for consumption, and this gets in the way of making sure everything is done at the same time.
I'd been pretty unsuccessful myself cooking asparagus. I usually threw it on a baking sheet or in my Pyrex pan for about twenty minutes in a medium-low oven and was left with soggy, rubbery stalks. Fine to eat, sure, but nothing to write home about -- or to blog about, for that matter. But a light went on, somewhere in my brain, and I realized: high heat! Shorter cooking time! Victory! Asparagus is fairly small, and roasting it for a long period of time is bound to dry it out and cause the fibers to disintegrate. You can do other sorts of things to asparagus, as with any vegetable: a common technique is to steam them or boil them. Some people go the extra mile and tie them into a bunch, place them upright in a small amount of boiling water, and allow the tougher stems to boil as the tips, which are generally more tender, steam. You can even purchase an asparagus pot for this very purpose.
I find that roasting asparagus gives it a heartier flavor and is easier, on the whole, to do than to steam or boil it. I don't like boiling vegetables in general -- it's difficult, especially with something like asparagus, to drain properly and I hate having a puddle on my plate. If I'm going to mash them (as I do with cauliflower or rutabaga) it's a different story, but I don't generally mash asparagus -- too stringy and fibrous. Although I suppose a food processor would help... I'll bet you could make a great asparagus dip with that handy tool. Anyhow. Roasting asparagus is easy, because all it involves is a bit of olive oil, a pan, and a hot oven. Oh, and a bit of salt. I like to use Lawry's Seasoned Salt on vegetables like this, and a small amount goes a very long way. Good, because it's (obviously) high in sodium. The health benefits of asparagus, though, outweigh that small amount of naughtiness: a whole cup of asparagus has only 34 calories and 3 delicious grams of protein, not to mention that they're an excellent source of vitamin A (20% of your DV),Vitamin C (13%), and Iron (16%). Vegetables really are good for you -- and they taste great, too.

Roasted Asparagus
Begin by preheating your oven to 400º.
Carefully wash the asparagus and take care to dry them thoroughly. You don't want any extra water on these when they're cooking, because we're going to coat them in oil. You can find asparagus in pre-measured chunks at the grocery store: one bunch should suffice for two hungry people.
Snap the rough ends off of the bottom of the stalk. You can usually find the right place to break it -- it will often snap itself -- by applying pressure to the bottom of the stalk with one hand and holding it with your other hand. Discard the ends and lay the stalks out in a large Pyrex pan or on a baking sheet with a lip.
Drizzle one thin line of olive oil over the stalks. Now, you get to get your hands dirty -- one of the best things about cooking. Rub the stalks around, in the oil, so they are evenly coated. You don't want them dripping with oil but you don't want any dry spots, either. Shake a small amount of Lawry's Seasoned Salt -- or sea salt, table salt, pepper -- over the stalks.
Arrange them back into a line without overlapping . Pop them in the middle of the oven for about 9 minutes, then remove from the oven. Shake the pan around to make sure the asparagus isn't sticking to the bottom -- if it is, add another small bit of oil and coat the stalks with it by pushing them around with a spatula. Rearrange so that they are not overlapping.
Put the asparagus back in the oven for another 5 to 6 minutes, until the tips are just beginning to turn brown and crunchy. The resulting asparagus will have tender skin and a satisfying resistance in the stalks when you bite down. You shouldn't have to test it -- this recipe is fairly foolproof. If your stalks are quite thin in diameter, reduce the cooking time to compensate; if they're fairly thick, add a few minutes after you shake them around.
You can eat the stalks with your hands -- right from the hot pan, if you so desire. Did you know that asparagus is one of the few vegetables that's acceptable to eat with your fingers in high society? I like to eat mine just like french fries, much like I eat green beans. If you want to be all classy, serve them with some fish and a fork. By the way: right now, I'm totally loving Trader Joe's frozen fish burgers. We got some salmon burgers a few weeks ago and they are just spectacular. I'm not a big fish-cooker -- it's difficult to get it right -- but these frozen burgers are literally idiot-proof. And they cook up fast. Plus, they're quite healthy -- it's recommended that people eat at least two servings of fish per week, and with these patties, you can easily exceed that amount. Asparagus is great with any type of meat, including fish, and is also an excellent addition to any vegetarian (or non-vegetarian) stir-fry. Or do what the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board suggests and make them into a hearty soup. Any way you cook it -- as long as you don't overcook it -- asparagus tastes delicious.


Sarah said...

you know i always hated asparagus, but the other day i saw WILD asparagus in the market and i figured i should give it a try. it's basically very skinny asparagus stalks! daniele prepared in a way that sounded really disgusting (it involved a hardboiled egg) but in the end i was licking my plate-so good! gotta go to work but i'll be back later to give you the recipe!

K8 said...

Ooo, I'd love that recipe. I've heard things about eggs and asparagus and it sounds good!
Miss you! lovelovelove!

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