A City Celebrates Asparagus, Sort Of
I pluck the plump spear between thumb and index finger. Peering at the fronds, as pearly and pointed as an elephant’s tusk, I wonder if my European grad school friend could possibly be right. Will this asparagus taste better than any asparagus I’ve ever had?
It doesn’t look that special. It is white, which I’ve rarely seen before. But it’s accompanied by the most boring things: Boiled potatoes and a sliver of breaded meat. Oh well. Time to find out.
I push the pencil tip of asparagus into my mouth and…ohhh…the crowd goes wild! Cheers! Screaming! It’s like fireworks in my head!
Oh wait. That’s not in my head. That’s actually happening. Voices cheer while cracks and pops explode for miles around. Celebrations! Oh my!
Please, let me pretend that these sounds are praise for German asparagus season.
Please, let me imagine that the city is delighting in my first bite of soft subtle springtime.
Please, let me dream that the screams have nothing to do with Germany scoring its first Berlin goal in the 2006 World Cup.
Every time I eat asparagus in the spring I remember the sound of a city celebrating. But in my memory it has nothing to do with soccer. Those pops and bangs will always explode in honor of me, sitting alone in a biergarten in Berlin eating white asparagus with boiled potatoes and a sliver of breaded meat.
Roasted Potatoes and Asparagus with Mint and Charred Lemon
There is no way to recreate my first bite of fresh springtime asparagus in Germany. But I can make grocery store asparagus taste pretty good by roasting it and adding a few extra ingredients. This is a very simple side dish recipe. Everything is cooked on one pan in the oven. It requires little attention but in the end the flavors certainly do pop and bang.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 lemon cut into quarters
- coarse sea salt
- 24 ounces fingerling potatoes
- 1 lb pencil-thin or slightly plumper asparagus, trimmed of lower stalks and cut into 2 inch lengths
- 5 medium mint leaves, cut in a fine chiffonade
- Preheat oven to 450º
- Measure the olive oil onto a large rimmed baking pan (I use a jelly roll pan). Tilt the pan this way and that until it is fairly well coated. Slide the cut sides of each lemon quarter in the olive oil. Sprinkle each cut side with a small pinch of coarse seat salt and then remove them from the pan. Slip the potatoes into the olive oil and then wiggle the pan around until the skins are all slippery. Sprinkle the potatoes with 1/2 teaspoon of coarse sea salt. Nuzzle the lemon in amongst the potatoes making sure that each quarter has a cut side in contact with the pan. Put the pan into the oven and roast until the potatoes are fork tender and lightly browned, 20-25 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the oven. Use a metal spatula to scrape and lift off the lemon quarters (don’t worry if they’re a bit blackened and stuck to the pan; do your best to get them off). Add the asparagus to the pan and give it a quick toss, tilt and toss before putting it back into the oven. Cook for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, into a small bowl squeeze the pulp and juice out of the charred lemons. Remove any seeds from the bowl.
- Remove the pan from the oven. Sprinkle everything with another 1/2 teaspoon of coarse sea salt and distribute the lemon pulp and juice over top. Gently transfer the potatoes and asparagus onto a serving platter and then sprinkle the mint over top.