Niagara Gazette

Community News Network

April 2, 2013

Asparagus and the grill, a match made for spring

WASHINGTON — My asparagus convalescence - from a childhood spent eating the mushy, canned stuff - began late in my adolescence, when my mother boiled fresh spears, then napped them with homemade hollandaise.

The healing was not complete until years later, when I tasted grilled asparagus. Charred, tender yet crisp, it captured a flavor that, if I were in charge of the vegetable's PR, I might call Springtime's Essence. Its delicacy was deepened by a turn over the fire, giving its natural winsomeness a kind of side-dish gravitas.

To my mind, everything about spring is epitomized by asparagus. As is frequently the case with converts, I have become a bit militant on the subject. To me, if you don't care for grilled asparagus, then you don't like grilling and you don't like asparagus.

 The two were made for each other. Boiling, steaming, roasting - none of those methods complement the vegetable's flavor like a wood or charcoal flame. This is the time of year when asparagus is at its best, and there is no better way of cooking it than putting the green spears on the grill and charring them. It's a taste of spring that foreshadows summer.

One question that attends the grilling of asparagus is the same one that bedevils other forms of asparagus cooking: Thick or thin, which is better?

For a long time, I simply chose whatever was at the store. Then I read that a skinny stalk packed more asparagus punch than a fat one, with a texture that is generally less woody. So I selected only the most anorexic spears I could find.

 In due time, consuming the baseball-bat-size things served at steak restaurants upended my skinny-asparagus fetish. If those could be as good as they were (and usually they weren't even grilled), maybe everything I thought I knew was wrong.

And maybe it is. But I have returned to my earlier, uninformed strategy: I choose whatever looks good.

That said, slender stalks can burn easily, turning what you hoped would be a nicely charred vegetable into an asparagus crisp. Fat shoots tend to require so much time on the grill to reach tenderness that their outsides can turn soft. Medium-size asparagus, I've found, takes well to charring while remaining simultaneously crisp and tender.

A bigger factor than size is freshness. If the asparagus at hand is limp or its spear ends flake easily or any part of the stalk is wrinkled, I change dinner plans and choose a different vegetable.

 Depending on my mood, I might get out the vegetable peeler. Peeling the stalk reveals a pretty, pale green that can seem almost translucent. I cannot vouch for a significant difference in taste (although I do think the flavor becomes less "field" and more "stream," if that makes sense). But sometimes I just prefer that clean, stripped look.

The versatility of asparagus is yet another of its many virtues. I will never forget an asparagus risotto that my wife and I enjoyed in northern Italy, at once rich, light and bursting with the flavor of springtime. Grilling the asparagus enhanced my attempt to replicate the dish at home.

 I go back and forth about cooking asparagus in a grill basket. Generally, I don't, because I feel that grilling directly on the grate gives the stalks a uniform char. But sometimes I do, perhaps because I may be in a pinch for dinner and I don't want to risk any casualties (spears falling into the fire).

 I also love an asparagus soup as a starter to a meal that moves on to other springtime glories, such as lamb. In addition to grilling the stalks, I briefly smoke them to lend the soup a beguiling flavor note that adds complexity to the sprightly springtime taste.

But I most enjoy grilled asparagus, I think, with a simple drizzle of good extra-virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a grind of black pepper. The problem is, I will then eat one stalk after the other, like potato chips. If I'm not careful, there won't be any left for dinner.

I suppose, though, that my obsession can be seen as a form of recovery.

Follow Shahin on Twitter: @jimshahin.

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Community News Network
  • Church's denied request for National Guard visit draws national attention

    A Missouri church finds itself in the middle of a media storm after the Missouri National Guard, citing short notice and time constraints, was not able to fulfill a request last week to appear at the church’s vacation Bible school.

    August 1, 2014

  • 20140727-AMX-GUNS271.jpg Beretta, other gun makers heading to friendlier states

    In moving south and taking 160 jobs with it, Beretta joins several other prominent gunmakers abandoning liberal states that passed tough gun laws after the Newtown shooting.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • lockport-police.jpg Police department turns to Facebook for guidance on use of 'negro'

    What seems to be a data entry mistake by a small town police department in western New York has turned into a social media firestorm centered around the word "negro" and whether it's acceptable to use in modern society.

    July 31, 2014 3 Photos

  • The virtues of lying

    Two computational scientists set out recently to simulate the effects of lying in a virtual human population. Their results, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, show that lying is essential for the growth of a cohesive social network.

    July 31, 2014

  • Survey results in legislation to battle sexual assault on campus

    Missouri U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill joined a bipartisan group of senators Wednesday to announce legislation that aims to reduce the number of sexual assaults on college campuses.

    July 30, 2014

  • An alarming threat to airlines that no one's talking about

    It's been an abysmal year for the flying public. Planes have crashed in bad weather, disappeared over the Indian Ocean and tragically crossed paths with anti-aircraft missiles over Ukraine.

    July 30, 2014

  • Dangerous Darkies Logo.png Redskins not the only nickname to cause a stir

    Daniel Snyder has come under fire for refusing to change the mascot of his NFL team, the Washington Redskins. The Redskins, however, are far from being the only controversial mascot in sports history.  Here is a sampling of athletic teams from all areas of the sports world that were outside the norm.

    July 28, 2014 3 Photos

  • 'Rebel' mascot rising from the dead

    Students and alumni from a Richmond, Va.-area high school are seeking to revive the school's historic mascot, a Confederate soldier known as the "Rebel Man," spurring debate about the appropriateness of public school connections to the Civil War and its icons.

    July 28, 2014

  • Fast food comes to standstill in China

    The shortage of meat is the result of China's latest food scandal, in which a Shanghai supplier allegedly tackled the problem of expired meat by putting it in new packaging and shipping it to fast-food restaurants around the country

    July 28, 2014

  • wd saturday tobias .jpg Stranger’s generosity stuns Ohio veteran

    Vietnam War veteran David A. Tobias was overwhelmed recently when a fellow customer at an OfficeMax store near Ashtabula, Ohio paid for a computer he was purchasing.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

Featured Ads
House Ads
AP Video
Renewed Violence Taking Toll on Gaza Residents 2 Americans Detained in North Korea Seek Help US Employers Add 209K Jobs, Rate 6.2 Pct House GOP Optimistic About New Border Bill Gaza Truce Unravels; Israel, Hamas Trade Blame Raw: Tunisia Closes Borders With Libya Four Rescued From Crashed Plane Couple Channel Grief Into Soldiers' Retreat WWI Aviation Still Alive at Aerodrome in NY Raw: Rescuers at Taiwan Explosion Scene Raw: Woman Who Faced Death Over Faith in N.H. Clinton Before 9-11: Could Have Killed Bin Laden Netanyahu Vows to Destroy Hamas Tunnels Obama Slams Republicans Over Lawsuit House Leaders Trade Blame for Inaction
Opinion
House Ads
Night & Day
Twitter News
Follow us on twitter
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Front page