Grilling is an exceptional way to cook asparagus, and easy as well. You can dress the spears in all kinds of ways. We pair the spears here with a lemon sauce, to which you might add capers, or try one of the other variations suggested.
Serves 6 as a side dish
1½ pounds asparagus spears, preferably medium thickness, trimmed of tough ends
Flavorful vegetable oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced shallot
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
Coarse salt, either kosher or sea salt and freshly milled black pepper
Paper thin slices or a shower of freshly grated Parmagiano-Reggiano, optional
Toss the asparagus in a shallow baking dish with enough oil to coat it lightly.
Fire up the grill, bringing the temperature to medium (4 to 5 seconds with the hand test).
Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat, stir in the shallot and soften, about 3 minutes. Pour in the wine and stir until about half of it has evaporated, then add the stock, and lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.
Transfer the asparagus to the grill, perpendicular to the cooking grate, placing the stem ends over the hottest part of the fire and the tips out toward a cooler edge. Grill uncovered for 5 to 8 minutes, depending on thickness, rolling it frequently to cook on all sides.
Arrange the asparagus on a long platter, top with sauce, and a sprinkling of additional salt and pepper. Add cheese if you wish, Serve warm or at room temperature.
Grilled Asparagus with Orzo and Feta. Toss 1 pound of warm cooked orzo with the sauce, cut the asparagus into bite-size pieces, and stir in the asparagus and about ½ cup feta cheese. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Grilled Asparagus with Salsa Cruda. Skip the sauce and use the eye-catching fresh tomato Salsa Cruda (page 000) instead. If you want a more substantial dish, arrange over garlic toast.
Grilled Asparagus with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette. Replace the sauce with another made partially from 3 chopped bacon slices, sautéed until crisp. Drain the bacon and reserve. To the warm drippings add ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1½ to 2 tablespoons white vinegar, ¼ teaspoon sugar, and salt to taste. Pour the dressing over the asparagus spears, then scatter with bacon and serve.
Grilled Asparagus with Warm Pancetta Vinaigrette. Sometimes it’s all in the name. Some people act appalled by bacon, but will happily eat something with Italian pancetta. Chop about ¼ pound of pancetta (easiest when it’s very cold) and sauté until crisp. Drain the pancetta and reserve. To the warm drippings add ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1½ to 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, ¼ teaspoon sugar, and salt to taste. Pour the dressing over the asparagus spears, then scatter with pancetta and serve