Sweet on roasted asparagus

When I'm in the throes of creativity, I have a tendency to play the same music over and over, especially if a painting or piece of writing is headed in the right direction.

Whatever album starts me down that road becomes a crucial element in the process. Switching tunes just might take me out of the groove. But the effect such behavior can have on others simply hadn't occurred to me until I was four days into a Sinatra jag.

My sweetie appeared at my studio door. Walking over to the music source, he squatted down in front of the compact-disc player and tapped on the front of the tuner. Knock! Knock! Knock! "Hello in there! Hello in there! Can you play something different, please?"

When it comes to seasonal foods, I'd exhibit the same tendency except for the obvious fact that too much of a good thing isn't, well, good. It can get downright boring. And so, even though a lot of cooks think that the best and only way to enjoy our totally fabulous Northwest asparagus is simply steamed with a drizzling of butter or simply steamed with a dollop of mayo, let's explore some alternatives.

But first things first. It begins with quality. Even though many of us have already indulged in California's crop, few would disagree that it's only after the rich, deeply hued, purple-headed stalks of Washington "grass" arrive that we can be totally satisfied.

Then there's time and storage. Even if you've ferreted out tight-budded stalks with green extending at least two-thirds of the way down and cross-examined the poor produce person as to the source and timing of his or her shipment, there's one more important element to keep in mind. Asparagus contains sugar that begins turning to starch as soon as it's picked. Refrigeration slows down the conversion.

Consider this: Asparagus stored at 32 degrees holds two weeks before losing half its sugar; at 68 degrees, two days; and at 86 degrees, half the sugar is gone after only half a day! So shop for your asparagus where you know there's a fast turnover, or you won't be getting the sweetest and most flavorful experience.

As far as preparation goes, steaming is a dandy method. But it's not the only one by a long shot. These days, folks are discovering that vegetables take on an entirely different character when exposed to a bit of dry heat, be it over a grill or in a roasting pan. Asparagus is a vegetable that becomes sweet and toasty from such treatment. So the following recipes are based on the simple process of roasting.

What you choose to serve alongside your roasted grass is up to you. However, I can recommend a dandy Sinatra CD for background music. Just don't be having my sweetie over for dinner.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, cookbook author and artist. Readers can contact her by e-mail at janrd@proaxis.com.

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