The word “grilling” conjures up images of delectable meats sizzling over an open flame, but grills are for far more than just meats. Vegetables also benefit from a little time on the grill, and asparagus is one of the best vegetables for grilling. There are two main methods for grilling asparagus: atop foil and directly on the grill.
Whichever grilling method you choose, select the largest asparagus stalks available. Thin asparagus cooks so quickly that it could be overcooked before it can be transferred to the plate, not to mention the greater likelihood of skinny stalks tumbling between the grating. Some markets may have more expensive purple asparagus, but stick to green; grilling will obscure the dusky color anyway. Look for firm stalks with no wilting.
Instead of trimming the bottoms of asparagus stalks with a knife, bend each one by hand and let them break at their weak point. The ends will naturally snap off just above where the tough fibers stop, so more of the tasty part is preserved for cooking. Allow five or six stalks per person, more if asparagus is a favorite side item or main dish for vegans.
Whether grilling directly or on foil, blanching asparagus before cooking it will keep its vibrant green hue intact. To blanch asparagus, add stalks five or six at a time to salted water at a rolling boil for twenty to thirty seconds or until the surface is bright green. Remove the spears and drop them into a bowl filled with ice and water to cool them quickly and stop them from cooking. Blanching isn’t necessary, but preserves the color for a more attractive final dish.
Grilling asparagus on foil results in a mellower smoky taste and allows more freedom with spicing. Make a tray out of foil by doubling a large piece of foil and folding the ends up. The tray should be large enough to hold the asparagus without bending or stacking the stalks. Add asparagus, one tablespoon of butter or olive oil per serving, and freshly ground pepper and salt to taste to the impromptu foil tray.
Try a squeeze of lemon or orange and some tarragon for an elegant touch. Minced garlic and a dash of balsamic vinegar added to the tray gives the asparagus a piquant hint of Italian flavor. Fresh mint or basil leaves are an unusual, but fresh addition to grilled asparagus.
Place the foil on the hottest part of your grill and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, turning the stalks once, or until done. Transfer to a warm serving tray and pour the remaining butter or oil mixture left in the foil over the asparagus. Top with chopped almonds, another squeeze of fresh lemon, or serve as is.
Cooking asparagus directly on the grill gives it a stronger flavor and a more pronounced smokiness that goes beautifully with the taste of asparagus. Thick spears are easy to handle, but a good way of handling thinner spears is to skewer a number of them together like pickets in a picket fence so that a whole “rack” of them can be turned at once. (If skewering asparagus, soak bamboo or wooden skewers in water for about ten minutes before using them to prevent their catching fire.)
Give the spears a light coating of olive oil, add salt and pepper to taste, and lay them on the grill. Cook for 2-3 minutes, turning once, slightly longer if softer asparagus is preferred. Asparagus cooks quickly on the grill, so have a serving plate ready to hold the cooked asparagus. Top with lemon juice, parmesan cheese, or slivered almonds.