Asparagus is one of the first vegetables to appear in my garden. By harvesting the patch regularly, I get to enjoy it long into summer. As I’ve already shared in this column, I turn much of the crop into pickles, from quick Spring Asparagus Pickles to refrigerated, canned and fermented ones. But I eat plenty of fresh spears too, almost always cooked on a grill.
If you’re unaccustomed to grilling vegetables, this is the summer to start. It’s my favorite way to cook many vegetables, from asparagus and broccoli to onions and zucchini. Grilling is my not-so-secret way of giving eggplant the smoky flavor needed for baba ghanouj, a Middle Eastern dip. It’s how I “roast” red bell peppers for sauces and spreads. I don’t limit this technique to vegetables: grilled pears, peaches and pineapple make simple yet irresistible summer desserts.
At home, I grill vegetables on a battered hand-me-down Weber kettle grill; I think I’m its third or fourth owner. Since I’m using charcoal, I tend to fill the grill with as many rounds of vegetables as possible once the summer harvest is on. Most vegetables cook quickly on the grill, so we’ll eat our fill for dinner and then freeze the excess to bring back the summer flavor all year.
Asparagus is one of the simplest vegetables to grill, with minimal prep required. The tenderest asparagus is not necessarily the thinnest – it’s the freshest. So plan to grill asparagus the day you harvest it or buy it at a local farmers’ market. You can always grill asparagus shipped from out of the area, but every day it spends in transit toughens and dulls it.
The thickness of the spears can affect how long they need to cook, so I err on the side of less time and set a couple of spears on one edge of the grill that I can bite into to check for doneness. I often reach for a chunk of Parmesan to grate directly onto the hot spears. For a vegan side dish, snip on some chives and mint instead. These are often ready in the garden at the same time as the first asparagus spears.
1-1/2 pounds fresh asparagus
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan (optional)
Remove the tough bottom ends from the asparagus and add them to your compost. In a shallow pan, toss the spears gently in the olive oil. Lay them directly on a hot grill so that they run across the bars. Grill for three to five minutes, turning for even cooking, until the spears are tender-crisp. In the last minute or so, place the lemon cut side down on the grill, until lightly charred.
Transfer the spears to a serving dish. Squeeze the lemon over the spears and sprinkle with salt, pepper and Parmesan, if desired.
Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.
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