So when I was a kid, my mom made me eat asparagus. A lot. And, hold onto your hats, kids—it was out of a can.
I am not kidding. It was a tall-ish slender can, and I remember seeing it in the cabinet and thinking, “Oh man, this stuff is gross!” It had every speck of life cooked out of it.
The parts that weren’t mushy were tough, like chewing on a branch. The only way I knew that asparagus was green was because there was a picture of it on the can. It was cheap.
My dad was a Teamster who was frequently on strike, and my mom was making something like $1.75/hour as a part-time secretary at the local grade school.
But in our family, we had a rule: Eat it, or else. And nobody really wanted to challenge the “or else” part. It was also a subliminal form of education, if you wanted to put a positive spin on it.
We at least got to taste a lot of food. Sometimes we liked it and sometimes, whether we liked it or not, my dad’s philosophy was, “I’ve never killed anyone with my food, so just eat it.”
Lucky for him, he was a talented cook for the most part, and had very few screw-ups.
Fast forward a couple decades and I’m living in Virginia and discovering the concept of “The Farmer’s Market.” Mind you, we had a little road-side shop in the neighborhood, but I never remembered seeing asparagus there. Lots of fruit, flowers and the like, but the veggies were the “normal” ones like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers that just about everyone grew in their gardens at some point. Though I do remember that the proprietor had a fantastic selection of basil plants—which started my love affair with that herb.
Anyway, I had a friend in Virginia who graciously showed me that there was life after canned asparagus. I have come to enjoy it in as many forms as I can afford it. Cream of asparagus soup, lightly steamed, roasted with prosciutto or parma ham, and cooked with a dash of lemon.
Recently, because of the Easter holiday, I was lucky enough to get about two pounds for the remarkable price of $1.35/pound, and of course I snatched them up. Young, slender stalks, lovely buds on the end, and that beautiful grassy green—I was drooling in anticipation.
So here’s my take. I must confess that my future daughter-in-law has a really fantastic recipe. But in my own fashion, I am using what’s available in my house, because it’s dinner time.
Vegan Roasted Asparagus
2 pounds young asparagus spears
1 tsp. pink salt or kosher salt
7 or 8 grinds (medium-coarse) fresh black pepper
1 to 1 ½ tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. golden balsamic vinegar
Heat the oven to 450 F. Line large rimmed baking sheets with tin foil (I used one large pan and one small one).
Trim the asparagus—take about 1” off the bottom of the stalks. (I’m open to suggestions as to what to do with the woody parts…) Lay the trimmed stalks on the pan in rows. Sprinkle the olive oil on, and add salt and pepper to your taste.
With a spatula, move the stalks around—scooping them up and turning over, moving them so that they’re coated with the olive oil.
Put the pans in the oven—even if the temp’s not all the way up there. Preheating is kind of a farce if you have a newer oven, but at least getting it started at the beginning cuts down on some of the cooking time. Set the timer for 10 minutes and go have a cup of tea.
At the end of the 10 minutes check the asparagus. Depending on how thick the stalks are, you may need a few more minutes. They should be fork-tender or even a hair more cooked. For the love of the veg, please don’t overcook them!
Spread paper towels or a clean tea towel in the bottom of another baking pan and remove the asparagus from the hot pans; draining them gets rid of some of the water and oil that leak out of them during the baking process. Lay them decoratively onto a large platter.
Sprinkle the golden balsamic vinegar on top, and then with tongs, mix this around so that all surfaces are covered. Don’t use too much of the vinegar. You want it to snap, not pucker!
If you’re using this as a main dish, two hungry adults can polish it off easily. Otherwise, this will serve six people as a side dish.
Notes: You can use citrus—the rind and a bit of juice from fresh lemon is delightful. You can also grind up pistachios or pine nuts and sprinkle on near the end. Like I said, I was using what I had in the house, and these stalks were so tender that they really didn’t need much fiddling with.
So, there is life after canned veggies. And I’m happy to have found it.
Author: Pat Perrier
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Author’s Own
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