Fresh asparagus tossed in a roasting tray under smoking hot grill, with toasted almond flakes and Parmesan melting on the spears sprinkled with sea salt crystals.
Best asparagus is the freshest
As long as they are fresh, it doesn’t matter much how you prepare asparagus – it will always be gorgeous.
Really fresh asparagus is firm and rigid, inelastic and unbending, all the way to the top. The tips are tight and vibrantly coloured, and the stems snap with a satisfying crack and a spray of juices.
To be honest, supermarkets won’t deliver the goods unless you’re lucky enough to snatch a very fresh delivery. Farm shops are the best spots; some even sell the asparagus from their own patch, picked the same morning.
To test for freshness, simply try to bend a spear gently. If it yields to your fingers, it won’t have been picked only a day or two before. It will still make a pleasant meal but not the ecstatic feast that the truly fresh ones make.
How to keep asparagus?
Like a bunch of flowers, and I’m not joking. Once you get your fresh asparagus home from the market, stand them up in a bowl or a jug with cold water, in the fridge. Okay – the fridge shelves may need to be reshuffled to make space for the tallest spears, but it’s worth it.
This will keep asparagus fresh for up to 5-6 days.
If only the supermarkets could be bothered to do that…
How to handle asparagus?
There is no rocket science to it: snap, rinse and cook – or use raw in a salad. Handle them as simply as possible, cook them as quick as you can.
After all, Roman Emperor Caesar Octavian August’s favourite quip was: ‘Velocius quam asparagi conquantur!’ (Quicker than asparagus cook) when he wanted things done fast.
Some cheffy recommendations instruct to peel the last inch, or even the whole stem. I say it’s a waste. I begrudge even binning the snapped off ends and I collect them to eventually make a wonderful asparagus stock to enhance risottos, pastas and grain dishes that feature asparagus.
How to grill asparagus?
Steam it then, boil it or stir fry asparagus, as long as you’re quick about it. This recipe is another method, and it will produce spears with a lot of bite and beautifully charred in places.
Use the sturdiest baking tray you have, big enough to fit all the asparagus in one layer. Brush it with an oil that has a high smoking point, as it will be preheating under the grill until that point. Set the grill on high, with the tray underneath.
When it’s smoking hot, throw the washed and snapped asparagus onto it, keeping well clear – it will go: whoosh! with moisture.
After 3-5 minutes, depending on how fat the stems are, remove the tray carefully from the oven, give it a shake and scatter the almond flakes. Drizzle a little olive oil over asparagus, for the taste this time.
Return it to the grill for another 2-3 minutes, keeping a watch on the almonds. They should turn golden-browned but not burnt.
Finally, take it all out and sprinkle with Parmesan and salt flakes, both generously. Another shake of the tray will let the Parmesan melt, but you’ll have to make sure to scrape any stuck to the tray and/or almond flakes and top the asparagus arranged on the plates.
Can you grill them on a barbecue?
You certainly can, following the same procedure. You’ll need to use a tray as well, possibly one of the throwaway foil ones will do, in case your barbecue is a ‘no washing up’ event.
Cook them shorter, as they’ll start charring sooner.
More asparagus recipes
You might have noticed I mentioned raw asparagus earlier on: shaved with a vegetable peeler, they make a great raw salad with Parmesan and a simple olive oil dressing.
I also mentioned making a flavour bomb of flavour from snapped off ends. It will come in handy when cooking this wonderful asparagus risotto.
And if you thought asparagus only go with mild flavours of poached eggs and hollandaise sauce, think again. Stir fried asparagus is as spicy as a firebird.