Every now and then – LONG HOLIDAY WEEKEND PEOPLE!!! – we deserve a real no-recipe recipe. Just take what you have and make it work. Since you are likely firing up the grill, this is one that you can throw on the side. Or if you are in a real hurry, you can throw asparagus in a very hot oven and let it do its thing in a matter of moments.
I first learned about high temperature vegetable roasting from the legendary chef/owners of Providence, RI’s Al Forno restaurant. George Germon and Johanne Killeen. They had just published their iconic book, Cucina Simpatica. I had yet to open New World Grill, but I was fascinated by their magic. They proved you could crank up the oven temp – 450 or 500oF – and blast any vegetable, with the exception of rock solid beets, in a matter of minutes. It was only the early 90s and we were otherwise much less aggressive about time and coaxing natural sugars out of our victims. Asparagus had mostly been relegated to boiling or poaching. Sure sure sure, it stays bright green that way, but so much of that baby is lost in the bathwater. Put it in a fiery oven or on a rip-snorting fire and you get this wonderful char that is a perfect foil for natural sugars.
Picking Asparagus Perfection
First pick the perfect stalk. Diameter is more a matter of preference, but it’s always easier to time the cooking if they are uniform in size. The hallmarks of a good spear are tight buds and firm stalks. Look for bright green or lavender-hued buds with wrinkle-free stems. Rinse them off under cool water to remove any sand and snap the bases where they want to be snapped. If the spear is a bit older, it will snap higher up the stalk. Follow the natural breaking point. If the stalks are bigger and super woody, you can whittle a bit away using a vegetable peeler. Make sure the spears are dry before cooking so they don’t steam. We are going for a dry cooking technique and want a little char.
How cute are these teeny weenies? I found them in a market in Slovenia and bonus!!! I got to pick asparagus from a nearby field the very next day. #heaven
If you need to store them until you are ready to use them, don’t clean them yet, but do give them a fresh trim on the ends. Then put them upright as you would a bunch of flowers in a container. A large liquid measure is a great and non-tippy choice. Cover the bases with a little water. I like to wrap the tops with paper towel to wick away moisture, then loosely tie a plastic bag around that. If the water gets murky, switch it out just like you would for flowers. You can store asparagus like this for several days, up to a week, but they are always best when cooked as soon as possible to avoid loss of flavor.
When it’s time to cook them, drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil and toss to coat them all, then season with salt and pepper. Place them on a sheet pan in a single layer – don’t overcrowd – or on the hottest grill. Cooking time will vary based on thickness, but can range from 8-10 minutes for thin spears to 12-15 for fatter ones. Give them a roll to turn about half way through and keep an eye on them. They should still be quite firm but start to get a bit of char.
Way too overcrowded. Single layer only – puh-leeze!!
To serve, drizzle a good balsamic vinegar and top with shards of Manchego. And because the measurements are all yours, this is now your recipe. Go. Enjoy. Brag. You’re welcome!
There was a time when asparagus was relegated to poaching or boiling and flavors were delicate, maybe napped with a Hollandaise? But no more! Char these babies and drizzle with a good Balsamic and shave some tangy Manchego on top.
1 bunch fresh asparagus (see notes above on selection)
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
aged Balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 450 oF or fire up a very hot grill.
Prepare asparagus by rinsing under cool water to remove any sand. Snap the bases where they want to be snapped. Follow the natural breaking point. If the stalks are bigger and super woody, you can whittle a bit away using a vegetable peeler. Make sure the spears are dry before cooking.
Drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil and toss to coat them all, then season with salt and pepper. Place them on a sheet pan in a single layer – don’t overcrowd – or on the hottest grill. Cooking time will vary based on thickness, but can range from 8-10 minutes for thin spears to 12-15 for fatter ones. Give them a roll to turn about half way through and keep an eye on them. They should still be quite firm but start to get a bit of char.
To serve, drizzle a good balsamic vinegar and top with shards of Manchego.
Top with a poached egg if you like!
Prep Time:5 minutes
Cook Time:10 minutes
Method:Roasting or Grilling
And if you are as obsessed with the poached egg on everything craze as I am, why not? This makes a mean breakfast, brunch, lunch dish. I could even see some avo toast on the side…if I squint my eyes.
Okay, there is a reason search engines hate me. I just don’t play by their rules. But I am sorry – who wants to see a headline about Brussels sprouts? Bo. Ring. Although this dish is anything but. It’s actually my brother who calls them Barbie Doll heads – what would I know? My idea of repurposing Barbie is to ram a rod up her and put a shade with some nice piano fringe on top. #AmIRite? That “Solo in the Spotlight” outfit was made to be a lamp. Well that and the fact I never really forgave her for the mic drop she pulled on the way to kindergarten. That microphone was integral to the outfit.
It’s a perfect time of year to find fresh Brussels sprouts – on or off the stalk. I found these at one of our winter indoor markets, grown by Blackbird Farms. A dish like this is so simple and undemanding that it fits holiday entertaining quite well.
Brussels sprouts date back to the late 16th century – thought to be native to Belgium, hence the capital name. They are high in Vitamins C and K, high in fiber, and like other cruciferous vegetables, associated with cancer prevention. But the important part is they are tasty. I like to roast them to get a nutty slightly charred taste, but you can also steam, sauté, and even remove the leaves and blanch them. Patrick O’Connell from the legendary Inn at Little Washington has a recipe in one of his books for Brussels Sprout Petals with Coriander Vinaigrette and Pickled Cranberries. It is quite delish and lucky for you, he featured it during an NPR interview so no need to buy the book (well there are plenty of reasons to buy the book, but just not for that recipe). Patrick serves it cold, but it would be a fantastic side vegetable, served warm, on your holiday buffet.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Shallots and Prosciutto
Toss the sprouts with 1 ½ Tablespoons of EVOO, salt and pepper. Arrange on a sheet pan and roast, shaking periodically, until tender and slightly charred, about 20-30 minutes, depending on size and freshness.
Heat the remaining ½ Tablespoon of EVOO and sauté shallots until browned. Add the prosciutto and continue sautéing until it becomes a bit crispy.
Add the roasted sprouts to the pan and stir to toss well. Drizzle with fig Balsamic vinegar, to taste. Adjust seasonings, as needed.