If you ask me which one of my children is my favorite, I will not answer you. I love each of them so much, so completely and pervasively, the question is not even relevant. Ask me my favorite color and I will hesitate. There are so many choices: sage, celadon, olive, lime…I don’t remember where I read this, but it applies to me: “I love any color as long as it’s green.”
Ask me to tell you my favorite vegetable. I love vegetables, almost all of them, even okra. I am not a huge fan of bok choi, but I’ll eat it. I have limited affection for the taste of radishes, but they are so gorgeous, I eat them anyway. But I do have a favorite: asparagus. In March, when the supermarket asparagus are plentiful, fresh, and inexpensive, I tend to serve them every day. Everyone in my family likes them, too, so they don’t mind (when I first met Bob, he said he didn’t like asparagus. But that was before he tasted mine). And when Cheryl (Rogowski) has asparagus at the farm market, I show up at exactly 9 am when the market opens and help myself to the best looking of the stunning specimens she has in the basket. Local asparagus is, to me, a reason to celebrate.
I don’t think I’ve ever met an asparagus I didn’t like. I often serve them simply steamed, just naked in their green perfection. I trim them, soak them in cold water in a big pot, then pour off all but ¼ inch of the water. I put the pot on a high flame, cover it and let it come to a boil. I toss the asparagus around a few times, let them cook for about 3 minutes, and then serve. They are great with a little balsamic and olive oil. And I love to dip them in a mustardy egg salad and munch away until all the salad and all the asparagus are gone.
Grilled asparagus in summer are hard to beat. Just coat with a little oil, salt and pepper and throw them across the grates so they don’t meet a fiery death. Roll them around a few times and cook until they are bright green and charred in spots.
Asparagus sauteed in a pan over high heat are great, with or without a little oil. And stir fries are pretty awesome. A few steamed and quickly chilled spears are great in any veggie platter; try them with my Sriracha Lime Sauce, Tahini Sauce with Herbs, or Hummole.
Oh, and while we are on the subject of favorites, let me tell you my favorite of the taste sensations: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. Many people, including all babies and young children, prefer sweet. I don’t have that much of a sweet tooth. I’m an umami woman all the way! If you’re not familiar with the concept, or you want to know more about it, Megan did a wonderful piece about umami for our blog, Chickpea and Rutabaga; take a look!
I believe I invented the recipe I am sharing with you today. I don’t remember when or what inspired me to think of this combination. But it is genius. If you only try one of the recipes you have seen on my blogs, I encourage you to choose this one. It is ridiculously simple and easy and the whole is stunningly better than the sum of its parts. And that is saying a lot because the parts are very, very, good. Brian would say that this asparagus recipe is unfair to all other asparagus recipes.
Before I give you the recipe, I want you to know that the pottery you see in this post (with the exception of the vase holding the asparagus upright) just came out of the kiln. The pieces are all stoneware, fired to cone 6 in oxidation; all of them were thrown on the wheel here in my little basement studio this winter.
Umami Bomb Roasted Asparagus
If you want to serve these as a side dish, hide them until you are ready to put them on the table. If anyone gets a bite, they will all be gone before you get them across the room. These make a great appetizer course. And a fine lunch or light supper with a poached or fried egg or two on top.
Look for asparagus that look bright and fresh with nice, tight tips. Avoid any that look dry, wrinkly or mushy. Smell their little heads like you would an infant. If they smell funky or ammonia-y, don’t buy them. Store them in the fridge in a plastic produce bag but leave the bag open. Or upright in a half inch of water with a plastic bag for a hat. Don’t store them for more than a day or two.
1 lb. perfect, fresh asparagus
¼ lb parmigiano reggiano*
2 tsp. good olive oil
2 tsp. soy sauce
*If you are a paleo dieter or vegan who does not eat parm, use your favorite substitute or simply omit.
Snap the woody bottoms off the spears where they break naturally and place them in a bowl or pot of very cold water for a few minutes or up to an hour. Preheat the oven to 450°
Use a vegetable peeler to shave the parmesan so that you have some nice pieces for garnish; set aside. Now grate the rest of the cheese. You can do this with a microplane or in a food processor. It is okay to cut it into chunks and grind with the steel blade. This qualifies as grating in my opinion.
Take the asparagus out of the water and roll them in a towel; get them really dry. Line at sheet pan with a piece of parchment and put the spears in a big pile in the middle. Drizzle the pile with the oil, the soy sauce and the grated cheese. Now, roll them all around to get them fairly evenly coated. In this process, you will also coat the parm, which will create nice bits for even more umami goodness.
Now, distribute the spears in a single, even layer. Bake for 10 minutes or until they are bright green and the cheese is brown and crisp.
Put them on a pretty plate for serving. Distribute the extra crispy bits on top and garnish with the parm shavings.