How to Roast Asparagus and some ideas for what to do with it once you have

“Picture the man at the dinner party. It might be a woman. That can happen. But it’s usually a man. Some smooth-faced Tristram or Tarquin, some bearded Xander or Xavier. His fork pauses, two asparagus tips trembling on its prongs, as, with one eyebrow hiked towards his glistening hairline, he drawls, “I think what we’re experiencing here is a Wittgensteinian difficulty with languages….”

Thomas W Hodgkinson, co-author, How to Sound Cultured

Hodgkinson and Van den Burgh wrote their entertaining book on the basis of the need to know who Wittenstein… or any number of others superciliously quoted was or were. But perhaps the essential question really here is why does that kind of person always wield asparagus?

There’s quite a bit of cultural snobbery about asparagus – white or green, fat or thin, perfect time-season, exact-correct cooking method, right saucepan etc. But it’s easily countered – white and fat incidentally, both supremely flavourless. This  is a vegetable which really doesn’t have to be treated with kid gloves, to be treated reverently with a skilled hollandaise. It’s not precious and precocious. You can be cavalier with it. Asparagus can be added to salads and pastas, quiches and crudités, or simply served as an accompaniment.

Out of season, or just can’t find it? Simply substitute with broccolini.

And in case you’re still wondering, Wittgenstein’s big insight was that there are some things which can’t be helpfully spoken of in words. He must have been a food writer.

The white has less flavour than the green… thin is better than fat…

Ideas for what to do with roasted asparagus

The method outlined below is a VERY quick and easy way of cooking asparagus. And that’s useful because there are so many ways of using asparagus:

  • It’s good served with slivers of Parmesan and roughly chopped chervil.
  • We regularly have them for breakfast with a poached egg (when feeling holy – less carbohydrate than the preferred Marmite toast).
  • You can turn it into a simple salad by serving with a vinaigrette and some shredded salad leaves.
  • You can make it into a smart starter by wrapping four or five spears together with a slice of Parma ham.
  • Classically, with Hollandaise sauce, or less classically, with wasabi Hollandaise sauce
  • Or with a romesco sauce
  • Or, idea from Ella Woodward, you can add some pine nuts for the last couple of minutes of roasting and then dress with a tahini-based dressing – couple of tablespoons each of nut oil,  olive oil, and tahini; teaspoon each of honey and cider vinegar; smoked salt and a few crushed pink peppercorns.
  • Restaurateur Mark Sargeant (The Strand Dining Rooms) loves asparagus and says he likes it with Asian flavours and will serve it with duck breast, bok choi, tenderstem broccoli, spring onion, chilli, ginger and soy sauce. He points out that it also goes well with sea trout.
  • Max Falkowitz suggests drizzling with lemon, garlic, Indonesian long pepper and dried coriander seeds.
  • Donna Hay drizzles hers with some beurre noisette mixed with a little thick balsamic vinegar.
  • Ottolenghi (in Simple) adds flaked almonds, capers and dill.
  • Writer, Claire Thomson, adds spring onions, olive oil, lemon juice, and dill
  • André Garrett, at The Corinthia, coats three bunches of asparagus spears with a mix of two teaspoons of honey, two teaspoons of harissa, the juice and zest of a lemon, half a teaspoon each of ground cumin and coriander, and some seasoning. Leave for half an hour, and then roast as described below.
preparing asparagus
It makes a satisfying ‘snap’ when you break it, in just the right place.

Recipe (method really) for roasting asparagus

Serves 4 as an accompaniment, or for six, wrapped in ham, as a starter

Ingredients

  • 500g/1 lb fine asparagus (not the huge treetrunk stuff)
  • ½ lemon – juice and zest of
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 50g/2 oz/one-fifth of a pack of butter
  • smoked salt and freshly ground pepper

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 210ºC.
  2. The asparagus does a magic thing! if you bend it firmly, holding it with one hand as the base of the stem and with the other a few inches up it will snap in a rather satisfying way at exactly the point between edible. and horrid and woody. Do this with all the spears and lay out in a shallow roasting tin.
  3. Pour over/sprinkle over/dot the other ingredients over.
  4. Roast for about seven minutes for thin, baby asparagus spears, and up to 12 for thicker spears. If they are wrapped in ham they will take much longer – more than 20 minutes for thick spears.
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