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Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Syrup

Asparagus is the quintessential spring vegetable. While we can get it for a good portion of the year at the supermarket shipped in from other countries, nothing compares to the month or so of locally-grown or gathered fresh asparagus.

While asparagus can be eaten raw, steamed, stewed, or grilled, I prefer it roasted. The asparagus becomes slightly sweet, toasty, and tender; yet it holds its shape. And when you add Balsamic Syrup and a few other goodies, roasted asparagus becomes that much better. I’ve been known to eat nearly an entire pan. It’s addictive.

This recipe calls for two bunches of asparagus. The asparagus I used was about an inch in diameter and I ended up with 3 dozen spears. If your asparagus is pencil thin, you may end up with more than 36 spears but this recipe will still work; the roasting time, however, may be faster (check it after 12 minutes).

2 bunches of fresh asparagus, cleaned

2 – 3 TBS olive oil

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

1 TBS lemon juice

Pinch of red pepper flakes

Zest of one lemon

1 – 2 TBS toasted, slivered almonds

1 oz Parmigiano reggiano or other parmesan cheese, Pecorino Romano, or grana padano

Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Trim the asparagus. Every asparagus spear has a natural breaking point. Hold the woody end with one hand and hold the tip with the other and bend gently. The woody end will snap off. Or, if you want your asparagus to be roughly the same size, just trim 1 – 2 inches from the stem end. Whichever method you use, discard the ends.

Place the asparagus in one layer on a sheet pan. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle the ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp black pepper. Massage the oil and seasonings into the asparagus.

Place the pan into the oven and roast for 15 – 20 minutes or until the asparagus is browned and fork-tender but not mushy. Remove the pan from the oven and set aside to cool for a few minutes or longer (you can serve the asparagus warm or at room temperature). As soon as the asparagus is cool enough to eat, check for seasoning and add a pinch of salt and pepper if necessary.

Arrange the spears on a serving dish. Drizzle as much Balsamic Syrup as you like over the asparagus and follow with the lemon juice. Sprinkle the lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and almonds over the spears. Using a potato peeler, shave as much parmesan cheese as you like over the asparagus and serve.

Don’t Freak Out!

1) When you trim the asparagus, instead of discarding the woody ends, keep them in a container in the freezer for up to 6 months. You can use the ends to make asparagus stock which you can then use to flavor asparagus soup, bisque, or risotto, or even parmesan soup. I don’t, however, recommend using the asparagus ends in vegetable stock; the flavor is too pronounced.

2) Don’t feel like shaving the parmesan cheese? Buy pre-grated (go for the larger size grate) parmesan and sprinkle it over the asparagus. While I'm not a fan of canned parmesan cheese, if you like it, use it. And if you want to make it vegan, you can use canned "parmesan-flavor" soy cheese instead.

3) Try substituting toasted and chopped hazelnuts or toasted and salted sunflower seeds for the almonds.

4) Even though the Balsamic Syrup retains a little bit of acidity, its rich sweetness needs a bump in the acid department and works well with the addition of lemon juice. But you could really highlight the balsamic flavor and add a splash of balsamic vinegar instead.

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