I realized today that I haven’t given a lick of thought to what we’ll have for Easter dinner—nor have I set aside time to develop a new Easter side dish to post for you all on the blog. My apologies. But just so I don’t leave you high and dry, I thought I’d offer you a piece of advice about everyone’s favorite Easter vegetable, asparagus: If you’re cooking for a crowd, keep it simple and pick a method like grilling or roasting.
While I’ve already posted about three methods I love for cooking asparagus (stir-frying, sautéing, and quick-braising), unfortunately these methods are best for serving three or four people. (And Easter dinner usually means at least a few more seats at the table.) Once you start overcrowding the sauté or stir-fry pan, you risk overcooking asparagus (steaming it before it browns). I also find poaching and boiling large amounts of asparagus to be risky, too (tips get overcooked or stem ends get undercooked).
What I love about grilling and roasting is that you can cook lots of asparagus at once. The big broad expanse of a gas grill’s grate or the generous surface area of a large sheet pan can accommodate twice as many asparagus as a sauté pan. Also, if you’re cooking a big ol’ leg of lamb and maybe some mashed potatoes, suddenly a quick and simple side dish becomes very appealing.
The other great thing about roasted or grilled asparagus is that they are delicious without embellishment. Cooked with oil and salt and sweetened up by all that high heat, they can drop right on the plate. (Certainly a little lemon butter, a sprinkling of ginger-spiked soy sauce, or a few shavings of Parmigiano wouldn’t hurt, either.)
If you’re game, here are the basic methods:
Roasted Asparagus: Heat the oven to 475 degrees. Trim ends from asparagus. For every pound of trimmed asparagus, toss with 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 to 3/4 tsp. kosher salt. Line a large heavy-duty sheet pan (or pans) with parchment paper. Arrange the asparagus in one loose layer (try not to crowd) across the sheet pan or pans. Cook for 10 to 14 minutes, or until the asparagus is tender and a little bit wrinkly. (Two sheet pans may take slightly longer to cook, but err on the side of undercooking, not overcooking.) Serve right away.
Grilled Asparagus: Preheat a gas grill on medium-high. Trim ends from asparagus. For every pound of trimmed asparagus, toss with 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 tsp. kosher salt. Arrange the asparagus at an angle on the grill grates. Cover and cook until nicely marked on the bottom, about 1 to 2 minutes. Using tongs, carefully turn over the asparagus, a few at a time (keep them at an angle to the grate), cover, and cook until the other side is just marked, about 1 minute. (Do not overcook; they will still be bright green.) Transfer the asparagus to a tray or plate and serve warm or at room temperature.
Note: 1 pound of asparagus will serve about 4 people as a side dish. Cook 2 pounds for 8 people.
Susie Middleton is the author of The Fresh & Green Table (Chronicle Books, June 2012) and Fast, Fresh & Green (Chronicle Books, April 2010). She is the former Editor and current Editor at Large for Fine Cooking magazine. She lives, writes, cooks, and grows vegetables on Martha's Vineyard. Her blog is at <sixburnersue.com