When I think about the foods of Spring and Easter, I think about five major ingredients; eggs, ham, asparagus, lamb and coconut. These often appear in the form of deviled eggs, spiral-cut ham, grilled asparagus, rack of lamb and coconut cake.
I love all five of those ingredients and cook with them year ‘round—especially asparagus. It goes with everything. I never tire of it, it brightens the plate and it’s good for me. Last week, I went to a farm stand in Beaufort, SC, and they had fresh local asparagus and I couldn’t resist buying it, Grocery store asparagus is good, but locally grown asparagus is great!
I like asparagus plain and simple, deeply caramelized by the grill and a bit salty. I like it fancified in salads with baby arugula and a lemon-truffle vinaigrette—or wrapped in prosciutto for a double-punch of flavor!
This year, why not combine ‘the ham dish and the asparagus dish,’ and make grilled prosciutto-wrapped asparagus? You can check the ham box and the veggie box and it makes a great appetizer or side-dish. It also makes a terrific hot open-face sandwich with Manchego cheese melted on top.
I love the way that the heat of the grill crisps the prosciutto and keeps the asparagus tender and juicy. It also looks beautiful on the plate and the grill grates!
Even if you don’t feel like wrapping your asparagus, you should consider grilling it as I think it is hands-down the best way to cook asparagus. The grill imparts so much more flavor than roasting it in the oven, or steaming it. If you have a favorite sauté recipe, try sautéing all the other ingredients and grilling the asparagus instead of sautéing it, chop and combine just before serving. The grilling will add a welcome flavorbomb!
First, a few tips on grilling asparagus.
· Buy the big fat spears—save the delicate spears for sautés or blanch and eat them crispy-tender. Grilled asparagus is best with the bigger spears.
· Asparagus is generally sold in bundles with rubber bands on the top and bottom. Most of the time, you can trim the asparagus by cutting just under the [bottom] rubber band. This way you can cut the woody stems in one swoop! See photo above and note: if someone at the market has moved the rubber band up into the best part of the spears, simply lower it down to the end of the tender part, and cut just under it. Alternatively, you can snap the bottoms off. They generally snap off at the point where the asparagus becomes tender.
· Oil the food, not the grates! This will keep the asparagus from drying out and will promote caramelization—those beautiful grill marks that look good and taste good!
· Place cleaned-and-trimmed asparagus in a re-sealable plastic bag. Add olive oil and close bag. Massage oil onto the asparagus spears to that all the surface area is coated with a thin coating. You can do this up to a day in advance and refrigerate. Season with salt just before grilling.
· Quick medium to medium-high direct heat is the way to go when grilling asparagus and don’t over-cook them. They should be bright green when you take them off the grill because they will continue to cook as they cool. Turn 1-2 times as they cook. The fatter they are, the longer they will take to cook, but they shouldn’t need more than 5 minutes total.
Grilled Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus
This is an easy way to add some pizzazz to your grilled asparagus. It’s great for Easter celebrations or anytime you want to dress-up asparagus. Because the grilled prosciutto is inherently salty, I omit the salt from this preparation. Drizzle the spears with the best olive oil that you have just before serving.
Grilling Method: Direct/Medium Heat
1 bunch fresh asparagus (Look for large stalks with firm deep green or purplish tips and moist ends)
8-12 slices Prosciutto de Parma, room temperature
Extra-virgin olive oil
Re-sealable plastic bag
Sheet pan lined with parchment paper
Rinse asparagus and cut off the woody bottoms. Place asparagus in a re-sealable plastic bag and drizzle just enough oil in the bag to coat all the spears. Seal bag and turn spears to coat evenly in the bag.
Remove prosciutto from refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. This is important as the prosciutto will stick to itself as you wrap it if it is not cold.
One by one, wrap the stalks individually. One piece per asparagus stalk will be ample. Start at the bottom of the asparagus and overlap slightly as you rotate the asparagus stalk to cover the entire spear. Don’t worry if it’s not tightly wrapped, as you can squeeze it a lightly to make it tighter.
Place prosciutto-wrapped asparagus on the cooking grate over direct heat for 3-5 minutes, turning occasionally or until marked and caramelized. Turn spears to grill each side after about 1 minute. Asparagus should begin to brown in spots (this indicates that the natural sugars are caramelizing) but should not char.
Remove from grill and serve drizzled with best-quality finishing olive oil you have. Can be served hot or at room temperature. You can also make an open-face sandwich with any leftovers.