I am typically not much of a sweet eater. Although I love dark chocolate and ice cream passionately, baked items such as pies, cakes, cookies and the like are things I can take or leave. I love to bake, but the savory foods in life are really what ring my bell; I unabashedly admit my backside belongs to bread and pasta.
As much as I love to cook, the creation of more elaborate dishes is usually saved for the weekend. My partner of 14 years and I have a seven-year-old daughter who is all legs and an appetite that can put a truck driver to shame. Although I personally could easily adapt to a more European style of later dining, the Princess would never have the patience to wait while pot-au-feu simmered gently for a couple of hours after I got home from work. When Mommy hits the back door, she wants to eat and she wants to eat NOW.
Roasted vegetables are one of the easiest, fastest and most delicious foods you can put on your dinner table. Just about anything in season can be tossed on a sheet pan with good olive oil and seasoning and roasted until tender, browned and yummy. It takes all of 15 minutes to do and you can sauté a couple of chicken breast fillets and make a quick pan sauce while they are roasting. Add some fresh bread from your local bakery and you have a healthy, scrumptious meal that beats anything you can get from a fast-food drive-through in about the same amount of time.
Notice I said vegetables “in season.” I am not knocking the blessing we have in being able to find all kinds of produce year-round in our supermarkets. But there IS a marked difference in taste between vegetables that have been grown organically and “in season” and those that are mass-produced for steady availability. I urge you to seek out the good stuff, if only occasionally, and treat yourself to the nirvana of a fresh, in-season, well-prepared vegetable.
Incidentally, the Princess is the world’s best helper when it comes to snapping the tough ends off fresh asparagus. While I am not sure there is a Peep diorama in it, I am wholly a devotee of child slave labor in the home.
- Fresh asparagus (about two pounds. I typically avoid either the very slim spears or the very fat ones with this method.)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
Note: if you have one of those stale, pre-ground, disgusting cans of black pepper in your cupboard, you might possibly see my glowing red eyes glaring at you from the nether regions of your kitchen when you turn around. Throw that crap out NOW—that is not food porn, that is low-rent adult theater. And invest in a decent pepper grinder, for the love of God.
Move the oven rack to the second position from the bottom and preheat oven to 450°F.
Snap the tough ends off the asparagus and put the asparagus on a sheet pan large enough to hold them in a single layer.
Drizzle about two tablespoons of the olive oil over the asparagus and toss to coat thoroughly. (Use your clean hands. It will be faster, easier and enable you to get a more even coating.) Arrange asparagus in a single layer on the pan, leaving some room between the pieces. Sprinkle with kosher salt (maybe about a teaspoon) and grind some pepper over the spears (you did throw out that nasty pre-ground black pepper can, didn’t you?).
Place on rack in oven and roast for about five minutes. Using a pair of long-handled tongs, toss the asparagus and rearrange in a single layer. Roast for an additional 3-5 minutes until tender and browned.
Now, at this point, you have choices. I mostly like my asparagus plain, but I’m not above dressing it up. Sprinkle some fresh lemon juice over the spears and toss with a tiny pat of butter. Or pile them on a platter and grate a little fresh parmigiana cheese over them. I said FRESH. The plastic cheese in the green plastic can should be tossed in the trash with the black pepper can.
If I’m really feeling extravagant and the rest of the meal is on the plain side, sometimes I’ll chop a little prosciutto while the asparagus is cooking and sauté it until crispy, then toss those lovely little nibbles of porky goodness with the roasted spears.
Mmmm. Who said vegetables had to be boring?