Asparagus gain a depth of flavor from the intense heat of the oven in this preparation. This is magnified if you use a cast-iron frying pan because it holds the heat.
Oven-roasted asparagus can be the basis for a wonderful spring pasta dish: Pasta with Oven-Roasted Asparagus and Cheese. Instead of roasting the asparagus whole, cut them on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces, which will roast in 5 to 8 minutes. While the asparagus pieces roast, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook a pound of pasta (I like gemelli, because they are approximately the same size and shape as the cut asparagus.) After draining the cooked pasta, mix in the roasted asparagus pieces, their juices, some lemon zest, and olive oil. Generously grate Parmesan cheese over all.
Preheat the oven to 500°F, and preheat a cast-iron frying pan or a roasting pan in the oven.
Wash and drain the asparagus, snapping or cutting off any woody ends. Carefully remove the hot frying pan from the oven, and put a little of the olive oil in the pan; it should thin immediately from the heat of the pan. Place the asparagus on top of the oil, and pour the rest of the oil over the asparagus. Toss or shake the pan until all the stalks are coated with oil, and put the pan back in the hot oven. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to make sure the asparagus aren't sticking. After 10 minutes, remove a stalk and see if it is done to your liking (cooking times will vary according to the thickness of the stalks and their freshness). The goal is crisp-tender asparagus with slight char marks.
When the asparagus are done, remove them promptly with tongs, leaving the oil behind in the pan. Serve, grating fresh lemon zest or cheese over the top if desired.
I often roast asparagus at the same time that I am preparing Flash-Roasted Salmon, using two frying pans and both oven shelves for an almost instant dinner. With a basket of good bread and a salad, I can have dinner on the table less than 15 minutes after entering the kitchen!
Adapted from The Flavors of Olive Oil: A Tasting Guide and Cookbook by Deborah Krasner (Simon & Schuster, 2002). Copyright 2002 by Deborah Krasner.
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