Roasting Intensifies the Magnificent Flavor of this Springtime Favorite
Springtime means asparagus. Oh sure, asparagus is available in our supermarkets year round. And often it’s pretty good. But early spring brings locally grown asparagus — the freshest and most succulent of the year.
With Easter coming soon, what better vegetable to grace your table? Not only is asparagus seasonally appropriate, it combines well with the ham or lamb that many people like to serve.
Although asparagus is wonderful no matter how you cook it, I have a soft spot for Roast Asparagus. This veggie has extraordinarily good flavor to begin with, but roasting deepens and concentrates it.
Roast Asparagus tastes equally good hot from the oven or cooked ahead and served at room temperature. What’s more convenient than that?
Recipe: Roast Asparagus
As discussed in the recipes for Roast Sweet Potatoes and Roast Cauliflower, roasting works well with vegetables because a hot oven evaporates moisture, making veggies tender and caramelizing their natural sugars.
And nothing is simpler than roasting. Just coat your asparagus spears with a thin layer of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and they’re ready for the oven.
You can roast asparagus (or any vegetable, for that matter) at oven temperatures ranging from 300 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. I prefer 400 - 425 for most vegetables, including asparagus. It takes longer to cook at lower temperatures, and at higher temperatures it has a tendency to char somewhat (which I regard as a good thing, although not always something I want).
I prefer thicker spears for roasting (see Notes). But thin ones work equally well (roasting time will be a few minutes less). I figure a pound of untrimmed asparagus serves 4 with no leftovers. But if you haven’t had asparagus for a while, you may find this isn’t enough — most people really go for this dish. So adjust accordingly. If you do have leftovers, they’ll store well wrapped in the refrigerator for a few days. Preparation time for this recipe is 5 minutes; cooking time is 20 to 30 minutes.
- 1 pound asparagus (purchasing tips in Notes)
- 1 - 2 tablespoons pure olive oil (the cheap stuff; the aroma of extra virgin olive oil dissipates during roasting, so you’re wasting money if you use that)
- a garnish of Hollandaise Sauce is pretty and tasty
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees (or any temperature between 300 – 500, but roasting time will vary; see Notes).
- Rinse off asparagus. If the stem bottoms seem woody, cut off an inch or two. Peel if you think necessary (see Notes; I often don’t peel when roasting asparagus).
- Put asparagus in a baking dish or on a rimmed baking pan (if using a sheet pan you may want to line with aluminum foil to aid cleanup). Pour a tablespoon of oil on the asparagus, and use your (freshly washed) hands to coat each asparagus spear with a thin coat of oil. Add more oil if necessary. Arrange asparagus so they’re in one layer and not touching (to promote even cooking). Wash hands!
- Roast the asparagus until the spears are tender but not mushy. At 400 degrees, this usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes, but I start checking at 15 minutes. Stir spears once during cooking to promote even roasting.
- If you want a bit more char on your asparagus (at this temperature you won’t get much), run the baking pan under the broiler for a few minutes until you achieve the result you desire.
- Taste, adjust seasoning, and serve!
- If you’re roasting meat, this dish (or any roast vegetable) is an ideal accompaniment, because it will cook at whatever temperature you’re likely to use for the meat.
- But oven temperature affects how quickly asparagus roasts. At 500 degrees, it could take as little as 15 minutes. At 300 degrees, it may need 40 minutes.
- You can use more or less olive oil than called for in Step 3, depending on what flavor you want. If you prefer a really low-fat dish, you can get by without using any olive oil, although the asparagus will be somewhat dry, and also less flavorful. If you go the “no olive oil” route, coat the baking sheet with baking spray to reduce sticking.
- The key rule for buying asparagus is to purchase the freshest. Two things to look for: One, are the tips nice and tight? If so, the asparagus is fresh. If the tips are loose, or on the verge of flowering, don’t buy. Second, is the bottom of the base white and fresh looking? Or is it cracked and brown? Buy the first, avoid the second.
- Should you use thick or thin asparagus spears? Both roast equally well. Thin asparagus can be so tender that you almost don’t have to cook it. And because the entire length of the spears will probably have the same circumference, both the tips and stems will cook in about the same amount of time. With thicker asparagus, the tips may cook faster than the stems, and the bottom inch or two of the stems may be woody (which is why I instruct you to remove them in Step 2).
- To ensure more even cooking of thick asparagus, people often peel the larger parts of the spears so their circumference is more even. The outer layer may also be a bit tough, and peeling eliminates that issue. When I cook asparagus by any method other than roasting, I always peel thick asparagus. I sometimes peel when roasting too, although I find I usually get acceptable tenderness without doing so.
- You can find asparagus at the supermarket year-round, but its peak time lasts for about a month in early spring. So right now is the best time to buy it.
Shall we have Easter dinner together, you and I? Although we can’t meet in person, at least we can get together virtually. I’ll provide the sides and dessert, and you bring the main course. Next year I’ll cook the main course — a big ham or rare roasted leg of lamb. Deal?
Most important things first: For dessert, we’ll have Homemade Meringues. With vanilla ice cream and Homemade Strawberry Sauce.
The meringues require egg whites, but not yolks. What to do with the yolks? How about a scrumptious Hollandaise Sauce to accompany the Roast Asparagus (one of our side dishes)?
Now for the other sides: We’ll have Pineapple, Coconut, and Carrot Salad. It’s delicious — kids just lap it up. And it tastes best if made a day ahead. Convenient.
We’ll also be serving Baking Powder Biscuits — with lots of butter, of course (as if there wasn’t already enough butter in the Hollandaise Sauce).
But we need another side dish, don’t you think? Something luscious, with potatoes. And perhaps a nice little aperitif to start things off?
I have the perfect ideas for both. But you’ll have to check back next week to find out what they are.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Roast Sweet Potatoes
Pineapple, Coconut, and Carrot Salad
Baking Powder Biscuits