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Asparagus: Made for the grill

By Jim Shahin
Washington Post

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  • Blistered Asparagus

    This dressing is lemony: Add more olive oil to tone down the tartness. A vegetable basket or mesh screen will be helpful. The asparagus can be grilled in advance, covered with plastic wrap and kept at room temperature. The dressing can be refrigerated for a day or two. From Jim Shahin.

    1 pound asparagus, ends trimmed

    2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

    1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

    2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed

    Freshly ground black pepper

    Prepare the grill for direct heat. If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-high (450 degrees). Lightly coat a large vegetable grill basket or fine-mesh grill screen with oil.

    Spread the asparagus in the basket or on the screen and grill, uncovered, for 5 minutes or until charred on all sides yet still firm. Transfer to a platter. (The asparagus can be covered with plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for several hours.)

    Combine lemon juice and salt in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in the 2 1/2 tablespoons of oil to form an emulsified dressing.

    When ready to serve, drizzle half of the dressing over the asparagus. Season with pepper to taste. Toss to coat; serve at room temperature.

    Yield: 4 appetizer or side-dish servings


  • Charred Asparagus Risotto

    Risotto comes in many forms, but few capture the spirit of spring like this asparagus version, infused with the bright taste of lemon juxtaposed with the beguiling flavor of charcoal grilling. You can grill the asparagus a day in advance. From Jim Shahin.

    1-1/2 pounds peeled and trimmed asparagus, preferably of medium thickness

    Water

    6 cups homemade or no-salt-added chicken broth, warmed

    3 tablespoons unsalted butter

    2 tablespoons vegetable oil

    1/2 cup minced sweet onion

    2 cups arborio rice

    1 cup dry white wine

    1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (from 1 large lemon)

    1/2 cup shaved or grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

    Sea salt or kosher salt

    Freshly ground black pepper

    Prepare the grill for direct heat. If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-high (450 degrees). If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them evenly over the cooking area. For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for 4 or 5 seconds. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames. Lightly coat a large vegetable grilling basket or fine-mesh grill screen with oil.

    Spread 1 pound of the asparagus in the grilling basket or on the screen; place on the grate directly over the heat and grill until the asparagus is charred on all sides yet still firm, about 5 minutes, using tongs to turn the spears as needed. Transfer to a cutting board.

    When the spears are cool enough to handle, cut them into 1-inch pieces, reserving the tips separately.

    Grill the remaining 1 / 2pound of asparagus (in the vegetable basket) until soft, for 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board.

    When cool enough to handle, cut the entire spears crosswise into 1-inch pieces, transferring them to a blender or mini-food processor as you work. Add just enough water (about 2 tablespoons); puree for about 30 seconds until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl.

    Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter and all of the oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the onion and stir to coat; cook until translucent, about 4 minutes, then add the rice and stir to coat. Cook for about 4 minutes until lightly toasted, stirring occasionally. Add the wine and cook until evaporated, about 2 minutes, stirring as needed.

    Stir in the asparagus puree and the lemon zest, then immediately ladle a half-cup of the warm broth into the pot. Cook, stirring constantly, until the broth is fully absorbed before adding the next half cup. You might not need to add all the broth; the rice mixture should be creamy, with tender grains.

    Add the cheese, the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the remaining asparagus pieces, stirring until well incorporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

    Divide among individual plates or wide, shallow bowls. Garnish each portion with a few of the reserved tips. Serve right away.

    Yield: 4 servings

    Nutrition: Per serving: 640 calories, 18 g protein, 83 g carbohydrates, 22 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 70 mg cholesterol, 510 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar



Charred, tender yet crisp, grilled asparagus 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. 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. I choose whatever looks good.

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 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.

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.

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