My friends are big fans of potluck dinner parties. It always seems that when we start figuring out who is bringing what, vegetable dishes are always the last ones suggested – even though we have vegetarians in the crowd. Pasta and salads just always seem to win out.
For our most recent dinner, I wanted to make a vegetable dish that would work with the meal (ham, salad, macaroni and cheese) without taking a lot of hands-on time once the guests had arrived. This asparagus totally fit the bill – I was able to prep it earlier in the day and pop it in the oven a few minutes before we were sitting down to dinner.
The recipe suggests opening a window or two and turning on the exhaust fan while you reduce the balsamic vinegar. Do it! I tried to skip this step because it was 20 degrees and raining out and the fumes quickly overwhelmed the kitchen.
Balsamic Parmesan Asparagus
(from Leite’s Culinaria)
Serves 8-10 as a side
1/2 cupdecent quality balsamic vinegar or just a few drops of truly top-notch balsamic vinegar
1 T. salt, plus more to taste
2 lbs. asparagus, tough ends snapped off
1/4 c. olive oil, divided
1 c. (about 4oz.) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175˚C).
If using ridiculously pricy, top-notch balsamic vinegar, skip this step. Otherwise, throw the windows open and turn on the exhaust fan. Then place the vinegar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, swirling the pan occasionally, until the vinegar is reduced by half, anywhere from 7 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the saucepan. Remove from the heat.
Bring a pot of water to boil. Add 1 tablespoon of the salt and the asparagus and blanch until barely tender, about 1 minute for spears of average thickness, more for thicker spears and less for skinnier ones. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Pat the asparagus dry with paper towels. (You can keep the asparagus at room temperature or refrigerate it for up to several hours.)
Place the asparagus in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet or, if necessary, two sheets. Sprinkle the spears with salt to taste, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil, and turn to coat. Shower the asparagus with the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Bake until the spears are tender and the cheese is browned and almost bubbling (it won’t actually melt), about 5 minutes.
Use a spatula to shimmy the asparagus from the baking sheet to a platter. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the reduced balsamic vinegar or a few drops of the really top notch stuff and the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Serve immediately, with the remaining reduced balsamic vinegar on the side.