Asparagus

My New Favorite Way to Cook Asparagus Happened by Accident

It also happens to be the best way.

June  6, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

Of all the methods for roasted vegetables with browned edges and perfectly tender, not-at-all overcooked insides—leaving the cut vegetables in the fridge to dry out overnight, as you would a chicken; forgoing the foil and the parchment; sticking with a high temperature; positioning your baking sheet in the hottest part of your oven—the one I find myself employing most often is an accident of circumstance.

Our kitchen is so small, you see, that we store the baking sheets inside the oven. That means that when we forget, as we often do, to take them out of the oven before we turn it on, we find ourselves with scalding-hot pans—dangerous if you forget to use oven mitts to remove them, but brilliant if you’re looking to get a nice browned edge on your vegetables without the insides turning to mush.

Preheated sheet pans are particularly useful when dealing with asparagus, which has a tendency to go soft and—I’ll say it—a little mushy. But when the stalks hit a hot baking sheet, they immediately start sizzling and browning, taking on a beautiful color without getting too soft.

When the asparagus is nearly finished, I shower it with grated Gruyère (Parmesan or Manchego would also be good) and switch the oven to broil to melt the cheese into a lacey web and drill down on the crisp asparagus tips. And since I firmly believe that asparagus—naturally grassy and sweet—needs acid, salt, and crunch to be its best self, I make a garlicky topping of panko and walnuts as the asparagus cooks, and finish with lots of lemon zest and juice.

It’s fun to eat it off the baking sheet, plucking it stalk by stalk, but if you’re at that point in asparagus season when the vegetable is no longer exciting enough to hold its own, try serving it over a bowl of barley mixed with olive oil and lemon juice, buttered orzo, yogurt blended with basil, or a thick slice of garlic-rubbed toast.

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Sarah Jampel

Written by: Sarah Jampel

A (former) student of English, a lover of raisins, a user of comma splices. My spirit animal is an eggplant. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream. For that, I'm sorry.

9 Comments

Carolyn S. June 20, 2019
Due to circumstances beyond my control, my only oven is a decent sized Breville toaster oven. The big advantage to that comes to roasting vegetables: I put the rack in the middle position and set the control panel to the longest toast setting possible, including pushing the “frozen” button. The asparagus is usually done perfectly with just one go-round because both sides are cooked simultaneously - though for this recipe I would probably turn the settings down and fire it again to crunch up the cheese and toppings.
Other vegetables have to go through several rounds, but it really beats having to turn a lot of carrots, beets, etc over. Works well for veggie burgers, too. Plus it doesn’t generate the heat of a full sized oven during the warmer months!
 
Naomi June 20, 2019
Same! Love my toaster oven!!
 
C39911 June 21, 2019
How is cleanup? I am imagining a vertical toaster set up. I am wanting a toaster oven.
 
Carolyn S. June 21, 2019
I have cooked veggie burgers (the firm store-bought black bean ones, frozen) in a vertical toaster. But the asparagus etc were in a toaster oven. Also, I do use parchment paper. Last night I roasted some small peppers and had to turn them to make them char on all sides.
 
Naomi June 21, 2019
Ha ha! Not a vertical toaster just for making toast. It’s basically a mini oven that sits on the counter top. I make EVERYTHING in it except Thanksgiving dinner!
 
C39911 June 21, 2019
Revealing myself, vertical, toasting on both sides, I still see drippings if I do not put the asparagus on something.
 
Samuel M. June 20, 2019
Hot pan is a good thought! Even better is the reminder to improvise. After cooking for 50 years, mostly because I like doing it, I appreciate the poke. Cooking for myself is not a chore; it is rather a useful, time-worthy activity. And an excuse to wander (and wonder) through Whole Foods to gather ingredients with which to improvise.
 
OldGrayMare June 9, 2019
Just got a bunch this morning. Was planning on putting in a frittata with peas, but cheese? Panko? Walnuts? Oh to heck with the frittata.....scrambled with this riff sounds perfect for (another!) steamy Florida evening!
 
Nancy June 6, 2019
Agree.
I've done something similar for years, learned from a friend, with a hot wok, asparagus lightly trimmed and cut on the bias in sticks about 3 inches long, finished with lemon juice and salt.
Will try your version - looking forward to the cheese notes, panko & walnut crunch.