Get In Line!
When I was a little kid, my parents loved to eat asparagus. However, I did not. At all. As a kid, you think "cheese makes everything better" -- well I don't think even that would have helped me with this particular green vegetable. In fact I vividly remember one occasion being told to stand in the corner of the kitchen because I would not eat my asparagus. "I will never eat asparagus again!" I thought. Most of it was stringy. It was bitter. Heck, I was bitter! In my young mind, nothing could change my opinion.
Fast forward 30 years (yikes!). I discovered that grilling can change anyone's opinion of any vegetable. Even leftover thoughts from childhood. By making smart choices with the size of asparagus, the seasoning and the cooking technique, the end result is breathtaking. This approach is very simple, my kids love it and I want to share it with you.
First, when you shop for asparagus look for pencil-thin, bright green stalks. Tips should be dry and firm, not limp. You can achieve amazing results by being picky here.
Second, take time and prepare. Before you take off the rubber bands or unwrap the plastic, firmly hold the asparagus and make a cut about 1-2" across the bottom of the stalks. The bottom parts can be discarded. They are most often dry and woody given the time it takes to get from the farm to your local store. (There's a reason why stores have the bundles standing up in water). So if you grow asparagus or you can get it at a farmers market, then you're probably a step ahead.
It is important to keep the asparagus arranged in the same way -- pointy tips one way, freshly cut ends the other. You'll see why later. When you wash them, do so as you please, but I suggest keeping them lined up in a colander.
Put the lined up, trimmed asparagus in a gallon size zip top plastic bag. Assuming one pound of asparagus, have your kids or other little helpers add 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and 1 tbsp of their favorite seasoning. A balanced mixture of salt, pepper, garlic, onion and thyme works well. Add some pepper flakes or smoked paprika for some additional flavor. Seal up the bag and have the kids give it a few gentle shakes to evenly coat the asparagus. Remember, try to keep the stalks lined up in the bag. Let it marinate overnight in the fridge or at room temperature for about an hour.
Setup the grill with an indirect, medium-high temp of about 400 degrees. When you're ready, open up the bag and carefully use a pair of tongs to remove small batches of the stalks. Lay them across the grill grates so they don't fall through. Here's why I keep saying "keep them lined up." It is important to place the bottom ends of the stalks over the heat first. If you do the tips first, the whole thing gets overcooked. If you don't have them lined up properly, you waste time rearranging each stalk and you lose precious heat in the process. Cover the grill and let them cook for 2 minutes, gently rolling the stalks after 1 minute, so that you grill both sides. Then flip the stalks so the tips are over the heat for the final 1-2 minutes. The cooking time varies depending on the thickness of your asparagus. And remember, cook them a little "under" since they continue to cook after you remove and cover them.
Tip: To make these asparagus really shine, cut a lemon in half and start grilling it before you put the asparagus on. After you take the asparagus off the grill, put them in a shallow dish, squeeze the lemon over the asparagus and sprinkle with a dash of salt (kosher or sea works best).
Although it's composed of over 90% water, this healthy veggie is packed with vitamin K, folate, copper and B vitamins. It's also a good source of fiber. Grilling it keeps the goodness inside, enhances the flavor and literally has the potential to keep kids at the table!