Asparagus Three Ways, Plus Lemon Aioli Sauce

Fat asparagus in green and purple ready for grilling.

Fat asparagus in green and purple ready for grilling.

Of course, these days, you can buy asparagus any time of year, but right now is when it actually tastes good, if you acquire local stuff, or if you are lucky enough to grow it. I have a big row, and we have been snarfing it down now for two weeks. This is fourth growing year for that patch, and since we had to wait for two to three years to harvest it plentifully, you can imagine how much fun it is to eat as much as we like.

The asparagus that you find in the store—like every other vegetable there—seems to come in only one size, but nature doesn’t grow it that way. I have very skinny spears, and huge fat ones as hefty as a carrot, practically the asparagus version of a steak, and everything in between. I also grow a purple one that, like some other purple vegetables, turns green when I cook it.

So we have feasted on it, with asparagus in omelets for breakfast, and roasted, steamed, and lightly sautéed in butter. I would love to get tired of eating asparagus, but that hasn’t happened yet.

The other day, my neighbor Marny stopped by and, seeing the asparagus on the kitchen table, told me about how she likes to fix it for lunch, which is to cut it up, steam it, and whisk a little red wine vinegar into mayonnaise, and put it on the asparagus. That was pretty good. You don’t need much vinegar to give the mayo a little bite, a tablespoon or so in a big blob of mayo. Just be sure to whisk until it is all smooth again, no lumps.

Asparagus shaved into a green salad is a good idea, too. Or just take a peeler and shave a big pile of asparagus to eat all by itself with a little vinaigrette dressing on it.

Roasting asparagus is so easy, and takes next to no time. Put the spears on a roasting pan, dribble a bit of olive oil over them, roll them back and forth a few times to coat them with the oil, then stick them in a hot oven (anywhere from 375 to 400 degrees) for ten to fifteen minutes. They ought to have a little crunch when you pull them out.

Then, no matter how you fix it, asparagus dipped into the following aioli sauce is going to be outstandingly good. Actually dip almost anything into it, even your finger. I tasted it, and it left me wide-eyed and weak-kneed. Make sure you let it stand after mixing it, so the lemon flavor has time to develop. I haven’t done it yet, but I bet this stuff would be good on fish or chicken, and is delightful on boiled potatoes, but fabulous on asparagus.

I always prefer to round recipes up to the nearest whole vegetables or fruit; in this case, one small lemon will give you what you need for zest and juice.

Lemon Aioli

½ cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

1 clove of garlic, pureed

Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all the ingredients together. Let stand at least an hour, preferably more.

Makes one-half cup of sauce.

Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.