In the span of fresh seasonal produce from A to Z, asparagus is not zucchini.
Few of us trouble to grow sturdy-stalked, tender-headed asparagus in our gardens, where zucchini will flourish in overabundance. Abandoned among the leafy vines, squashes eventually swell to comic proportions. But we do not press sacks of asparagus spears into neighbors’ hands or leave them on staff break-room counters.
“Fresh asparagus in season is easy and versatile but we usually reach for the steamer basket,” says Wendy Gordon of Northeast Portland’s Irvington neighborhood. “In warm weather, we don’t think first of roasting vegetables, although it caramelizes and sweetens asparagus, bringing out more nuanced flavor.” In fact, the oven may heat about as quickly as water boils, and the spears will finish roasting in as little as 10 minutes.
Gordon always loved cooking but in the pre-foodie 1970s, domestic-tinged pursuits like culinary school were not yet exalted. In fact, they were discouraged, so she earned a master’s degree in dietary nutrition at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. When Gordon cautions that organic canola oil is the only non-GMO canola oil on the market, you have confidence that she’s checked it out.
Gordon and her husband have three children in their 30s and a 16-year-old, plus four young grandchildren, three age 1 or younger. Their seven-person household of three overlapping generations runs on simple, nutritious, appetizing meals. On her website, Gordon posts recipes for “dishes that are quick, not fussy, emphasizing a variety of flavor combinations, adaptable to what’s seasonal in the market” and also blogs about cookbooks.
Parmesan-Crusted Asparagus With Balsamic Vinegar
Prep: 10 minutes | Roast: 10-12 minutes | Easy
- 1 pound medium to thick asparagus spears
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 ounce Parmesan cheese*
- Sea salt and black pepper
- Balsamic vinegar
* Hard cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, domestic Parmesan or Pecorino (not packaged grated cheese)
- Heat oven to 450 degrees with rack positioned at top.
- Rinse asparagus and snap off tough ends.
- Arrange spears in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.
- Drizzle olive oil over asparagus and rotate each spear until well-coated.
- Using a vegetable peeler, shave Parmesan curls into a small bowl and then drape over spears. It’s OK if some strands fall onto the pan.
- Roast on the oven’s top rack until cheese is melted and asparagus is crisp-tender, approximately 10-12 minutes – watch carefully.
- Transfer asparagus to a serving platter, scraping up any cheese sticking to the pan and sprinkling it over the spears.
- Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with balsamic vinegar to taste.
Here are three of Gordon’s other suggestions for roasted asparagus:
- For a main-dish salad, slice asparagus diagonally into bite-sized (approximately 1-inch) pieces and combine with greens, sliced roasted red peppers and bite-sized pieces of ham, tossed with vinaigrette.
- For a buffet dish, arrange asparagus spears, sliced roasted red peppers and ham strips on a platter. Use good-quality ham such as Black Forest or imported Spanish ham or prosciutto.
- Arrange spears on a crudité tray with other lightly cooked vegetables (sugar snap peas, green beans, red peppers, mushrooms, broccoli florets) and serve with aioli or a Greek yogurt-based dip.