Roasted Asparagus with Feta

February 18, 2009

It seemed to me that these celestial hues revealed the delicious creatures who had merrily metamorphosed themselves into vegetables and who, through the disguise of their firm, edible flesh, disclosed in these early tints of dawn, in these beginnings of rainbows, in this extinction of blue evenings, the precious essence that I recognized again when, all night long following a dinner at which i had eaten them, they played, in farces as crude and poetic as a fairy play by Shakespeare, at changing my chamber pot into a jar of perfume.
~Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way

Given its variable nature and year round availability, asparagus is likely the most beloved green at our table. Whether steamed, boiled, sauteed, grilled or roasted, asparagus are finger food heaven and marry well with nuts, cheeses, vinaigrettes and some sauces. Do not dare deign to use a fork or knife with these darlings.

Asparagus officinalis is a perennial flowering plant species from the lily family. These delicate spears were cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, and a recipe even appears in one of the oldest surviving cookbook, Apicius’s De re coquinaria (3rd Century AD).

Asparagus shoots evolve into stalks several feet high, sometimes growing 6″ to 10″ in a single day. Some one half of the world’s asparagus is harvested white, which is accomplished by covering the spears from light, thus inhibiting chlorophyll production. This produces a more delicate and sweet version, but is also more fibrous—usually requiring peeling before cooking. A portion of each green or white asparagus spear’s bottom end is inedible, so simply bend the stalk until it naturally snaps.

Asparagus is seductively low in calories and sodium, and contains no fat or cholesterol…while remaining a hearty source of folic acid, potassium, dietary fiber, and rutin.

ROASTED ASPARAGUS WITH FETA

2 lbs medium asparagus, bottoms snapped off
2 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 C good quality feta cheese

2 t fresh lemon zest

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Toss asparagus with oil, salt, and pepper in a large shallow baking pan and arrange in single layer. Roast, shaking pan once about halfway through roasting, until asparagus is just tender when pierced with a fork, 8-12 minutes—but, with 2 minutes to go, sprinkle asparagus with cheese. When done, top with lemon zest and serve.

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