I have always loved asparagus. But the minute I tasted grilled asparagus, it went from a vegetable I liked to one that I was madly in love with.
Every time I make it — seasoned with my basic grilling trilogy of olive oil, salt and pepper — people ask for the recipe. That's because grilling transforms the asparagus so much that most people think I am pulling their leg when I tell them it has just those ingredients.
Most people don't realize what a powerful flavor enhancer the heat of the grill is. And this simple recipe really shows just how powerful it is.
It works because the high heat of the grill causes the natural sugars in the asparagus to caramelize, accentuating its nutty, sweet flavors.
Though asparagus is available all year long, it's a sure sign that spring is here when the local asparagus begins to arrive at the grocer. I prefer the thick-bottomed stalks that snap instead of bend with tight tops and a plump green look to them.
Asparagus also comes in white (popular in France) and purple varieties, but I think the green variety is more tender, sweeter and usually is less expensive.
I usually buy asparagus the day I am going to cook it, but you can keep it fresh in the refrigerator the same way you keep parsley fresh — cut off the bottoms and place the entire bunch upright in a glass of water.
When you are ready to cook it, you need to trim the bottoms.
I then wash my asparagus, dry it and place it in a zip-close plastic bag. Drizzle olive oil in the bag, seal it and "massage" the stalks so that all the exposed surfaces have a light coating of oil. This is essential for juicy grilled asparagus. Otherwise, it will dry out and might stick to the grates. My motto — oil the food, not the grates!
Grilled asparagus needs no adornment to enjoy, but in honor of spring ham I am wrapping the room-temperature grilled asparagus with translucent slices of prosciutto for an antipasto appetizer all in one bite. You can take it even further and dress it up as a gorgeous salad with a dollop of burrata or fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of olive oil, coarse sea salt and cracked black pepper. Either way, it's the perfect way to celebrate spring.