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How To Make
Roasted Asparagus


If you haven't tried roasted asparagus before, you're definitely missing out. Roasting is just such a great way of cooking asparagus: the dry heat from the oven helps the asparagus caramelize, intensifies all the flavors, and even brings out a bit of a nutty flavor.

Roasted asparagus, or baked asparagus (it's the same thing!), definitely tastes different from boiled or steamed asparagus. In fact, it's different enough that some people who think they don't like asparagus at all might really enjoy it this way!

Depending on how long you cook it, roasted can be fresh and crispy, or warm and extra sweet. And there are so many different ways to season it, you'll never be bored. I know I've never gotten bored of it!

In this article, I'll go over everything you need to know to make delicious oven roasted asparagus. I'll start off by talking about how to prepare the asparagus. Then I'll talk about how to roast it. And finally, I'll go over a few different finishing touches you can add to make your roasted asparagus extra special.

Preparing The Asparagus

When you're making roasted asparagus, there are a few things you need to do to get it ready for the oven. Some of it is just what you'd have to do when preparing any vegetable for cooking, but there are a few things that are particular to roasting, so read on! First, we'll talk about washing. Then, we'll go over trimming the asparagus. Finally, we'll talk about using oil and seasonings.

Washing

Before you cook your asparagus, you need to wash it. Washing gets rid of dirt, sand or chemicals that might still be on the spears. There are a few different ways to wash your asparagus.

  • Let some lukewarm water run over the asparagus, and rub them gently to clean them. Be especially careful not to damage the tips. Young, fresh asparagus is actually not too fragile, but you still don't want to break off the tips!
  • Let the asparagus soak in a bowl lukewarm water. Rub the spears gently, or stir gently to get the dirt and sand out. Let the dirt deposit at the bottom, then just lift out the asparagus. Don't leave them in too long, or they can get waterlogged, which can prevent them from roasting properly.

Lukewarm water is best for cleaning vegetables. It's much better at getting dirt off than cold water!

Once the asparagus spears are clean, gently pat them dry. If they're still wet, they may not roast properly – the water will turn into steam, and prevent you from getting nicely browned roasted asparagus.

Trimming

Asparagus is one of the easiest vegetables to prepare. The only part you need to trim off is the tough end, because it can get woody and stringy as the asparagus ages. It's not bad for you, but it's not very pleasant to eat!

There are two way to trim off the tough, woody ends.

  • My favorite way is to hold the asparagus by its middle in one hand, and then use the other hand to bend the woody end down until it snaps off. The asparagus will naturally break off where it starts to be tough, so you're left with as much tender asparagus as possible.
  • You can also use a knife to trim off the ends. Just slice off about an inch or an inch and a half off the woody end. The fresher the asparagus, the less you'll have to trim off.

If you have very thick asparagus, you can also peel the base instead of breaking it off. A lot of times it's just the outside that's tough, and the inside is just fine, perfectly tender. It doesn't work as well with thin asparagus though, because there's so little left after peeling!

Sometimes, it can feel like you're trimming off quite a bit of that yummy asparagus... but it doesn't have to go to waste! You can use the trimmed bits in a vegetable stock to add some nutrients and flavor, without having to actually eat the tough, stringy parts.

A Bit of Oil

Unlike some other methods for cooking asparagus, you need a bit of oil for roasting. Why? Well, roasting is a dry heat cooking method, which means moisture gets sucked out of the vegetables. If too much of that happens, your asparagus might look limp and lifeless after roasting.

A bit of oil helps protect it against drying out, keeping it much fresher looking. And it also help the asparagus brown nice and evenly, giving it a nicely spread out caramelization.

Both olive oil or vegetable oil work great, so use whichever you prefer. Olive oil has a slightly different taste, but it goes great with asparagus. Just use about a teaspoon per pound of asparagus, and toss the asparagus in the oil to make sure it's evenly coated.

Notes

  • You can use extra oil to help the asparagus brown more quickly. I'm not a huge fan of using lots and lots of oil though. If you use too much, the asparagus itself gets oily and I don't really like that.

Seasonings

You don't actually need any seasonings to make roasted asparagus. With just a bit of oil, your roasted asparagus will be very yummy. But seasonings do let you add more complex and interesting flavors, so that you'll never get bored! Here are a few different seasoning you can add.

  • Spices. You can use simple spices like salt and pepper (coarse salt is even better). Or you can jazz it up a bit and use cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, curry... anything you enjoy! Just try it out and see how you like it.
  • Fresh herbs. Some fresh chopped herbs like tarragon, rosemary, thyme, sage, basil or parsley can make a great addition to your roasted asparagus. Just sprinkle the herbs on top of the asparagus before roasting. You can add as much or as little as you like!
  • Dried herbs. You can also used dried herbs instead of fresh. You use them the same way as fresh herbs, except generally, you don't as much, because they taste stronger.
  • Aromatic vegetables. A little bit of minced onion, garlic, or shallots really add a lot to roasted asparagus. Again, use as much as you like... I love garlic, so I never hesitate to add a bit more! You can even top the asparagus with some sliced mushrooms. It adds a wonderful flavor.
  • Fruit juice or zest. Citrus fruit in particular are great with asparagus. You can drizzle a bit of lemon, orange or even grapefruit juice over the asparagus, or sprinkle some zest on top. Again, use as much as you like – just a hint of lemon juice can add a nice, subtle flavor, but a bit more orange juice can add some delicious sweetness, too.
  • Vinegar. A little splash of balsamic, red wine or cider vinegar goes great with roasted aspragus. You can add it after it's done cooking, but if you add it from the start it'll cook a bit, making it sweeter and milder.
  • Nuts, seeds, or dried fruit. You can add some nuts like pine nuts or slivered almonds, or sesame seeds, or even dried fruit or sun dried tomatoes. The nuts and seeds will get nicely toasted and flavorful as they roast, and the fruit can add a touch of sweetness.
  • Cheeses. Some freshly grated Parmesan or crumbled feta make a great addition to roasted asparagus. You can add them in towards the end of the cooking time, or right from the start, depending on how melted and cooked you like the cheese.
  • Anything else? There are so many other seasonings you can add. You can toss the asparagus in a honey/lemon/dijon dressing, or add a bit of honey or soy sauce, or add some bread crumbs for texture. Just use your imagination and come up with your own delicious ideas.

Once you've picked your seasonings, just add them to the asparagus, and toss to spread the seasonings evenly.

There are so many possibilities for seasonings... just mix and match, try different things. You'll end up with a whole new dish every time! And you can choose seasoning that will complement the rest of your meal, too.

Roasting Asparagus

Once your asparagus is washed, trimmed, and coated with a bit of oil or seasonings, you're ready to roast! It's really super simple.

Here's how you do it.

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F.

    • It's the perfect temperature for roasting. It lets the asparagus cook through, but still brown on the outside.

  2. Place the asparagus in a baking dish. It should be big enough to hold all the asparagus in single layer.

    • You don't want to overcrowd the asparagus. If you do, the steam escaping from the asparagus will become trapped, and end up steaming your asparagus. And then you won't end up with the nice caramelization you get from roasting.

    • If you like, you can line the dish with foil to limit cleanup. But I find that with the oil coating, nothing really sticks, so it's easy cleanup either way!

  3. Roast the asparagus in the preheated oven until it's cooked to your liking. Keep an eye on the tips – they'll cook faster, so you want to make sure they don't burn. You can shake the pan once or twice to make sure nothing is sticking.

    • Thin spears might be cooked in as little as 5 minutes if you like them still pretty crisp, but can take up to 15 minutes if you like them soft.

    • Thicker spears can take anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes to cook, depending on how cooked you like them. If you prefer your roasted asparagus soft, leave it in longer!

    • You can test how done the asparagus is by poking it with a knife, or by taking a little bite.

  4. Serve, and enjoy! You can serve the asparagus as soon as it's cooked, or let it cool to room temperature. It'll be delicious either way. Keep in mind that the asparagus will continue to cook a bit after you take it out of the oven, so it'll get a bit softer. You can plan for that by taking it out a minute or two earlier.

And that's how to make roasted asparagus. At this point, you're ready to serve, but there are a few finishing touches you can add. Just check out the next section for some ideas.

Finishing Touches

Once the asparagus is cooked, you can add some finishing touches to make the dish even more special. Here are a few ideas:

  • Sprinkle some cheese over the asparagus. You can use Parmesan, or crumbled feta, or any other cheese you like. It won't be as melty as if you had added it during the cooking time, and it'll feel more refreshing.
  • Sprinkle with some lemon juice, or garnish with thin lemon wedges. Again, it tastes fresher than if you added the juice before roasting.
  • Drizzle a bit of vinegar on top. It'll be a little more pungent than if you add it before roasting, since the acidic taste won't have a chance to boil off. But it can be really nice if you don't use too much!
  • Top with pan-fried onions or mushrooms. It's a lot like roasting the asparagus with onions or mushrooms, except that you can add a lot more, and let them caramelize even more.
  • Top with fresh chopped herbs. It'll give a really nice look, and the herbs will taste much fresher than if they had a chance to cook. I find it's more summer-y.

And that's all you need to know about making roasted asparagus! It's simple, takes 5 minutes to prepare, but it can be an extremely elegant dish for any crowd. It's great to impress when you don't have a lot of time, or just to enjoy with your family.