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Roasted Asparagus with Prosciutto
By Charlie Burke

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In New Hampshire, we are in the middle of the asparagus season, and our three
beds are keeping us and friends well supplied. We trade fat spears of just cut
asparagus for our neighbors’ eggs and are reminded how much better each are
than the well traveled  supermarket offerings.

Although tiny squash, carrots and beans are particularly tender and full of
flavor, thin asparagus are from either immature or poorly producing plants. The
most tender and flavorful spears are, in fact, the thickest which grow rapidly and
have less chewy fiber. Before tiny vegetables were featured in restaurants and
food magazines, asparagus growers often consigned the thin stalks to the
compost; now, some specially package these small spears to sell at a premium
price! So, when visiting your local farm stand or Farmers’ Market, choose large
asparagus with tight buds and then taste the difference in fresh, local produce.

My favorite way to prepare new asparagus is to simply sauté them in a very hot
pan with a sprinkle of lemon juice and either olive oil or butter. The lemon juice
accents the flavor and caramelizes as the asparagus lightly browns.

Cook them only until they as crisp tender; even the best asparagus loses it flavor
when soft and over cooked. With friends coming to dinner, I decided to add
prosciutto to the mix, while still using olive oil and lemon juice. Because I was
going to sauté the fish course, which was salmon picatta ( http://www. , the asparagus
would be pan roasted in a 500 degree oven. The spears were peeled, so almost
the entire length was tender, with only the fibrous inch or so being discarded.
Four or five spears were wrapped in a single thin slice of proscciutto, sprinkled
with lemon juice and olive oil and placed in a shallow sauté pan with a little dry
white wine to add moisture.

The salty Italian ham is a perfect accent to the asparagus, and cooked asparagus
wrapped in prosciutto are served warm or at room temperature is a popular
spring antipasto in Italy.

Four servings:

4-5 asparagus spears per person
1 thin slice prosciutto per serving
Fresh lemon juice, approximately ¼ cup
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or butter
½ cup dry white wine
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Peel and trim fibrous root end from asparagus and
wrap 4-5 spears in a single slice of prosciutto. Place bundles, seam side down in
shallow sauté or frying pan which has been oiled or spread with butter. Sprinkle
bundles with the lemon juice and dot with butter or sprinkle with olive oil.

Place pan over medium to high heat and bring wine to a boil. Place the pan into
the preheated oven, and roast until asparagus is just tender – a knife tip or fork
meets moderate resistance, but stalks are not hard. Remove the pan from the
oven and season lightly with salt (the ham adds salt to the sauce) and a generous
grind of black pepper. The asparagus can be served hot, war or at room
temperature. Divide pan juices over each portion. A few drops of lemon juice
and a drizzle of fine olive oil are optional.

This simple preparation yields a formal presentation while complementing,
rather than obscuring, the great spring taste of fresh local asparagus. Easily done
ahead, it is appropriate as an appetizer (using single spears), a first course or
salad substitute, and as a main course vegetable.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm
to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along
with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather
Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
Roasted Asparagus with Prosciutto
©The Heart of New England online magazine
...celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont!
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