Today's dish is so simple that it hardly merits being called a "recipe." But it's so good that it bears discussion, just in case the idea of throwing a few stalks of asparagus on the charcoal grill hadn't yet occurred to you.
The peak of fresh asparagus season coming as it does in happy coincidence with the return of outdoor grilling season makes this one a natural for springtime. The flavors are delicious - grilling adds that delicious smoky nuance, while the process seems to concentrate and intensify the natural flavor of asparagus in a way that mere steaming can't match. And the procedure, as noted, is quick and simple, requiring only a reasonable amount of attention during the grilling process to ensure that your veggies don't burn.
A similar approach will work with many vegetables, of course. Grilling is an outstanding alternative for eggplant, red or green bell peppers, fresh fennel, thick-sliced onions and many more. But do try it sometime soon with fresh, crisp spears of green asparagus. If you haven't sampled this treat before, you'll thank me.INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)
1 pound fresh green asparagus
1. Fire up your grill. I won't get into the charcoal-vs.-gas wars today, but suffice it to say that for me this means light your charcoal and give it plenty of time, 20 to 30 minutes or until the coals are hot and covered with a light gray ash. I like to use chunk charcoal and a "chimney" starter, avoiding the kerosene aromas of starter fluid.
2. Wash and dry the asparagus. Snap off and discard the woody end of each spear (or, if you're feeling thrifty, save them to simmer in a vegetable stock). Put the asparagus on a plate, drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle with plenty of salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, and turn them until every stalk is well coated.
3. When the coals are ready, put the asparagus on the grill, directly over the coals. (For safety's sake, I like to use a grill-top screen to help keep the spears from falling through, but if you take care to keep the spears perpendicular to the slots in the grill, you should be OK.) Grill until they're cooked through but still crisp-tender, turning them once or twice so they brown on all sides. I find that 5 minutes over a hot fire is plenty, but this may vary depending on your coals and the thickness of the spears. Consider a taste-test or two as the chef's reward. Remove to a warm plate and serve them hot.
VARIATION: Try seasoning the asparagus with other interesting spices before grilling. Cumin, paprika, a judicious dash of cayenne or Asian "Five Spice" would all be worth a try (but probably not all at once!) Or add a sprinkle of fresh minced herbs - tarragon, thyme, even cilantro - just before serving. I would keep it simple, though: The simple purity of fresh grilled asparagus with just a little good olive oil, salt and pepper is mighty hard to improve on.
WINE MATCH: Unless you're of a mind to simply gorge on spring asparagus, I see this as a side dish and would choose my wine to match the main course. But if you like to experiment with food-and-wine matching, I'd think of a "green," herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc as a natural companion.
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Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.
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