Sometimes it seems to me that everything reflects everything.
Becoming transparent in the human sense, as I wrote about in the previous post, means that more light gets in, and out, in a spiritual, or maybe for some, emotional or psychological sense.
Transparency in the culinary sense, as I understand it, is both like and unlike this. Like human transparency in that the true self — in this case, of the particular ingredient prepared in a way that enhances but not obscures it — shines through. Not like the human transparency in that the ingredients are physical. Of, and from the earth. Earthy, earthly. Worldly.
When we eat we are physical beings, confirming our connection, endorsing, and participating in our connection to the physical world, rejoicing in it, if we are lucky enough to have enough to eat and to have it be good food, by which I mean food that nourishes us, gives us sensual pleasure, and serves as the medium of that benign connection.
To me, allowing an ingredient’s true self to shine through transparently often means simplicity, or perhaps purity is a more accurate word, of preparation. (After all, in one sense canned green beans and condensed cream of mushroom soup and fried onion rings make up a "simple" recipe. But not simple in the way I mean here).
Now sometimes I’m all for elaborate, multi-layered recipes, full of complexity and layers of seasonings , as those who’ve seen Passionate Vegetarian can attest; some reader/cooks seem to love this — as long as the guidance is clear — while some don’t, as a cursory read of the reviews at amazon will tell you.
But sometimes simplicity is the thing.
Asparagus done this way won’t look prepossessing, but it is itself to the nth degree: slightly crispy-crunchy on the outside, moist and juicy within,
and explosively, purely asparagus.
Roasted Asparagus (per person)
The freshness of the asparagus is key: no mushy tips, please, ever, not even one slimy scale on a tip. Also, you want them of a consistent thickness for this method.
1/2 pound vibrantly fresh asparagus
1 to 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
a small pinch of coarse sea salt
a couple of good grinds of black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 475.
2. Break — don’t cut — off the white. tough root ends of the stalks (bend them, and where they snap is the point of proper tenderness).
3. Cut the asparagus, tips and all, in lengths about an inch, inch and a half long. You can slice them on a slight angle if you like. Throw the asparagus into a bowl, add the olive oil, salt and pepper, toss well, and spread out on an ungreased Silpat mat (or a well oil-sprayed baking sheet). Spread them out on the mat or sheet; you don’t want them lying on top of each other.
4. Assuming the stalks are of medium thickness, bake them in the hot oven, for about 6 to 8 minutes. You want them slightly shriveled, but not even close to charred. As I mentioned, the asparagus slices won’t look especially pretty, but this is irrelevant after one bite.
Half a pound per person seems like a lot, but you won’t have leftovers.
(If you did, of course as an omelet filling the next day, maybe with a little grated Gruyere or Emmentaler cheese, they’d be superb. But this is moot, because you won’t have leftovers).
Also, please note that while this recipe works best using a Silpat mat, you can certainly do it on a baking sheet. However, nothing beats a Silpat (the in-recipe link was about Silpats; this one just above is where to buy ’em) for making roasted vegetables, and most vegetables, roasted right, are so mind-boggling good that a Silpat is absolutely worth the twenty bucks or so it costs.
Asparagus, like rhubarb and fresh strawberries, are signal foods that, of course, herald spring, a season that was certainly not wasted on Emily Dickinson:
A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown —
Who ponders this tremendous scene —
This whole Experiment of Green —
As if it were his own!
This spring, may the whole experiment of green be as if it was your own.
Right now here in Vermont, the mountains, as the trees green out, look from a slight distance almost as if they were covered in soft green moss.