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Love letter with animosity and asparagus

Dearest Seattle,

Every now and then you’re really spectacular. It’s usually something small and subtle and a little gritty, something I would have missed if I didn’t have a nasty habit of staring, a keen ear for other people’s conversations, or a weakness for your Patagonia-meets-post-punk fashion sense. It’s the chatty produce vendor at Pike Place Market, a gin and tonic at the Alibi Room, a romp in the ravine at Ravenna Park, or your Space Needle glowing on the night skyline like some sort of majestic wizard’s tower in a sci-fi movie. You’re everywhere I want to go. To hijack the Frank O’Hara poem “Steps,”oh god it’s wonderful / to get out of bed / and drink too much coffee / and smoke too much salmon / and love you so much.”

But Seattle, we need to talk.
You’re a tease. After a mild, sunny, beautiful winter and the glowing weather of last month’s Pork Week, you’re now nothing but gray. Your skies have only two settings—cloudy and rainy—and for variety, you throw in a little wind. If you keep this up, I’ll no longer be able to roll my eyes at those silly people who, at the first mention of your name, joke about umbrellas, raincoats, and Seasonal Affective Disorder. You’re letting me down. Stores are swarming with bathing suits; tulips are in every vase; and you’ve decided it’s winter.

But because I care about you, I won’t turn my back. I’ll carry on as though everything were fine. I’ll lead the way by example. And I’ll begin with asparagus.

Even though it’s blustery outside and my hair is wet and matted from an early-afternoon walk in the mist, I can still exhibit proper springtime behavior by eating asparagus. It’s everywhere these days, poking up from the soil like a strange lunar life form and clustering in bunches in grocery stores. Everyone is talking about it—green or white, finger-fat or pencil-skinny. And though I’ve eaten asparagus in any number of ways—steamed, blanched, puréed into soup, folded into soufflé, or dusted in dried powdered orange rind and saffron, à la Astrance in Paris—my favorite springtime ritual involves nothing more than a few fat stalks, olive oil, salt, and a good, hot oven.

Seattle, I’m waiting for you to come around. When you decide you’re ready to behave, you know where to find me, and if you hurry, I’ll save you some roasted asparagus.

Roasted Asparagus

This method is nobody's breaking news, but it’s quick, easy, and absolutely delicious. The high heat of the oven concentrates the flavor of the asparagus without taking away or adding too much moisture, and the result is fork-tender, lightly caramelized, and unexpectedly juicy.

1 bunch green asparagus, preferably on the fat side
Olive oil
Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Snap the woody ends off the asparagus stalks, rinse them well, and dry them thoroughly with paper towels. Lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet, and drizzle them with a thin stream of olive oil—it doesn’t take much. Use your hands to roll the stalks in the oil to coat them lightly but thoroughly, and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 10 minutes; then shake the baking sheet to turn and roll the asparagus. Bake for another 4-5 minutes, until the asparagus are a vibrant, shiny, cooked shade of green and their skins are lightly blistered and slightly wrinkled. They should be soft and yielding but not shriveled or mushy. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Blogger Cathy said...

I only recently found your blog through Zarah, but what a wonderful blog it is! And what a wonderful post this is! Fun to read and makes me wish I knew Seattle too.

4:43 PM, April 03, 2005  
Anonymous Julie said...

Love that roasted asparagus! I've made it so much lately that it could be considered a ritual to try to bring on spring. My only problem is that G can eat a whole bunch by himself, and if I want leftovers...well, that's why I've taken to making 3 bunches at a time. Provençal herb salt works really well with this too, although sometimes the purity of unadorned asparagus is all you want...

5:01 PM, April 03, 2005  
Blogger Swirl and Sniff said...

I can't refrain from commenting on your Seattle prose: it's beautiful and freakishly accurate.

My apartment is filled to the brim with tulips (I couldn't help myself), and last night a friend and I forced ourselves to stand on the balcony in the rain and shake our fists angrily at the sky.

I also can't help quoting more O'Hara (this from "For Grace, After a Party"):

And someone you love enters the room
and says wouldn't
you like the eggs a little

different today?
And when they arrive they are
just plain scrambled eggs and the warm weather
is holding.

6:46 PM, April 03, 2005  
Blogger TanTian said...

Your version of the poem is my favorite.

7:25 PM, April 03, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Cai, thanks for stopping by and commenting! I was just perusing your site, and I love your Mondays with Maida routine.

Julie, thanks so much for the herb salt suggestion. It might be gilding the lily, but it sounds wonderful.

Swirl and Sniff, would you believe that only minutes after I published this post, the sun came out? I think Seattle was listening to us. And thanks for the O'Hara tidbit...I hadn't seen that one before, and it's lovely.

And TanTian, shhh! Frank O'Hara is probably rolling over in his grave!

8:13 PM, April 03, 2005  
Blogger Zarah Maria said...

Loving your writing - I hope you'll never get tired of hearing that, 'cause I'm gonna abuse the sentence a couple more times, I'm sure. We had the loveliest day here today, and ta-dah: asparagus at the market. I grilled mine on a grill pan - lovely! But will of course have to try roasting them soon. Oh, and then I have to try Seattle, too!:-)

12:07 PM, April 04, 2005  
Blogger amylou said...

Thanks for this, Molly. I too love roasted asparagus but last time I made it I drew a total blank as to how long I should have it in there and ended up totally killing it. The asparagus shrivels not only looks unapetzing on the plate, they lost their taste.

Now if Malmö would just get on the ball. Asparagus isn't overflowing the shelves here like it seems to be doing everywhere else.

8:58 AM, April 05, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Thank you, Zarah Maria! Keep up the good asparagus work.

And Amy, I'll be sending all sorts of abundant-and-perfectly-cooked-asparagus vibes your way...

12:42 PM, April 05, 2005  
Blogger A Vagrant Appetite said...

Amazing, I'm glad I've found another asparagus aficionado, truly the best vegetable of the season. I've been thinking about trying it with some kind of anchovy paste, but really, there's not much you can do to improve fresh asparagus on its own!

11:36 AM, April 08, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

A Vagrant Appetite, let me know if you come up with an anchovy-paste rendition. Sounds like a good experiment!

2:51 PM, April 09, 2005  
Anonymous Nicole Marie said...

I just had to let you know that I made this asparagus tonight and it was a revelation.... My family has always been a vegetable-steaming family, and asparagus was always cooked that way, with butter and salt after cooking, so for years I never even conceived of cooking it a different way.
Now that I've left the familial nest and asparagus is finally a decent price at the Toulouse marché du boulevard Strasbourg, I've had the chance to rebell against my upbringing. It was the best asparagus I've ever had, and I've sent this link to my parents in hope they might break with tradition and give it a go.
I suddenly feel like a vegetable evangelist.
Keep up the fabulous writing.

3:42 AM, April 10, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Amen for vegetable evangelists, Nicole Marie! I'm so glad to hear that the asparagus was such a hit--and I'm horrendously jealous that you're in France.

1:12 PM, April 10, 2005  
Blogger Mysterious said...

Brilliantly written, loved the expressions.

6:54 AM, August 29, 2006  
Blogger kinsey said...

I'm very much a late-comer to the Orangette party, having impulse-purchased your book on one of those "I-need-something-new-in-my-life" days, as much for the color combination on the cover as for the content inside. Fortunately, I wasn't disappointed. I fell in love with your quirkiness, warmth, and food descriptions immediately as I discovered yet another writer who magically writes the way I think. Discovering that you have an entire blog full of such stories and recipes is really just the proverbial icing on the cake. I've been undertaking the mission of reading through the archives on slow afternoons, and today, I arrived here at your asparagus recipe.

This is one of the many ways I enjoy my asparagus, but it took much coaxing for me to get there. In the beginning, I could eat it only one way, and I find that way is still my favorite, worth sharing: lightly coated with olive oil and (strangely) raw sugar, then quickly sauteed in a very hot pan on the stove. The sugar forms a nice little crust that acts very similarly to your roasting process, locking in the flavor but also adding a bit of sweetness to the concentrated, sometimes pungent green-ness (yes, I think things taste like colors) of the asparagus.

Thank you so much for sharing your food/life (is there a difference?) with us!

2:03 PM, August 05, 2011  

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