When stalking asparagus one should always seek the firmest spears with the tightest tips. The thicker the stalk, the older the plant. Thinner asparagus are therefore younger and more tender. The pencil-thin spears are most prized of all. Their fragile skin cooks more quickly and the greater ratio of skin to surface area on the thin spears means they will caramelize more completely.
1 1/2 pounds thin asparagus stalks.
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, (or other dry-aged goat or sheep’s milk cheese)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt & White Pepper (to taste)
1 tablespoon meyer lemon juice
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar*
1 large shallot, finely minced
Rinse the asparagus and break off the woody bottoms. Cut the asparagus spears into thirds in order to create four-inch pieces. Whisk the oil, lemon juice, vinegar and seasonings. Coat the asparagus pieces in the dressing and arrange them in a large baking dish. Slide the baking dish under a broiler at least six inches away from the flame. Reserve the remainder of the dressing in the bowl.
Holding the tongs, broil the asparagus for a few minutes while staring at them intently to the point that they may actually become uncomfortable. Every couple of minutes remove the baking dish from the oven and quickly rearrange the pieces with the tongs and returning them to the oven. This way, all the stalks will caramelize evenly, darkening from green to golden brown at the edges without blackening.
Remove the apsaragus from the oven and quickly toss the stalks in a big bowl, first with the remaining dressing, and then coating them in the cheese.
Arange the spears one final time onto the baking dish and slide it back under the broiler for a final minute or two, so that the cheese melts but does not burn. Serve immediatly.
* Fig vinegar can also be delightful.
* California’s Vella’s Dry-Aged Jack Cheese is a great local alternative to Parmigiano Reggiano. The California asparagus season runs from late April through the end of June.