I was nearly 21 years old before I learned that you could roast asparagus. There was a lot of asparagus in my life leading up to that point, but I had only encountered it steamed or boiled. It was one of my grandma Bunny’s go-to veggies and made many an appearance at holiday meals. She always blanched it and served it with faux hollandaise sauce. At home, my parents further simplified the eating of it and just dipped it in puddle of mayonnaise.
I spent the spring semester of college (January-May 2000) living in the Queen Village section of Philadelphia. This was the first time in my life beyond my parents’ house that I had lived in an apartment with ready access to a kitchen and I took full advantage the opportunity. I made soup from scratch for the first time in my life and learned how to light the pilot light on the oven when it went out (which it was always doing).
One afternoon I was walking home from my internship at the Independence Seaport Museum, I passed a man selling produce off the back of his truck (which was rigged specifically for this). He was parked someplace on 4th Street, in the heart of Fabric Row. He had some nice looking asparagus and so I approached him and asked how much. Somehow I ended up in a conversation about asparagus preparation and he confessed that he liked it best roasted. I asked for more detail and he told me it was as simple as could be. Just cut off the ends, toss it with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at 400 degrees until it yields to the tines of a fork. I was an instant convert.
Back in Walla Walla for my senior year of college, now living in a house with a couple of friends off campus and doing regular grocery shopping, I discovered that in the spring time asparagus was dirt cheap at our local natural foods store. They grow it in the fields around Whitman and so for a few select weeks, I could get it for $.39 a pound. I lived on it for as long it was available, buying five and six pounds each time I went to the store and switching between roasting and steaming.
These days I still basically follow the same instructions that the produce man gave me more than seven years ago. I’ve added some freshly chopped garlic to the mix, which I love because it softens and becomes sweet and translucent under the layer of asparagus. It is one of my very favorite vegetables.