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Citrus-Roasted Asparagus

This is a recipe that combines two of my favorite foods:  asparagus and oranges.  I love asparagus and will eat it just about any way at all; usually I just steam it until tender and eat it with butter, salt and pepper.  But this recipe takes it to new heights and is totally worth the extra preparation.  In case you didn't know, the fattest spears of asparagus will be the most tender.  If you have picked wild asparagus, you know that the first spears that make their appearance in the spring are the fat ones.  After you pick them, another shoot is sent up, but it's much thinner than the first one and not as tender.  After you pick that one, the next one is even thinner and less tender.  By then, the season is about over.  My husband used to take our kids asparagus hunting along riverbanks and ditches in the early spring.  It's not easy to see asparagus fronds--they blend in with all the other green and growing things.  When you know what you're looking for, though, you can spot them if you try.  He used to tell the kids to put on their "asparagus eyes" so they could find delicious fresh spears for our dinner.  When it's fresh picked, it even tastes good raw, crunchy and flavorful.  One year we estimate they found almost 30 pounds worth during the season!  I think that was the only year I had all the asparagus I wanted.  Anyway, memories aside, I hope you'll try this recipe and see what I mean.

Incidentally, do you have a citrus zester?  It's a small tool that looks like this:

I only got mine about a year ago, thinking it was one of those tools that's nice to have for an occasional use, but could totally be done without.  I was wrong.  I've been surprised at how often I use it; I should have bought it years ago!  If you have one, it'll make quick work of the first step in the recipe.

Citrus-Roasted Asparagus

1 seedless orange
1 lemon
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil + amount needed for vinaigrette
1 lb asparagus spears
1-2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1-1/2 tsp tarragon leaves
Salt and coarsely ground pepper

Cut orange and lemon in half.  From one half of each, cut 1/8 x 2 inch strips, avoiding the bitter white pith; set aside.  This can be done with a very sharp knife, or your handy dandy citrus zester.  Squeeze juice from the halves you just zested; set aside.

Thinly slice remaining halves of the orange and lemon.  Place slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Drizzle slices with 1 Tbsp of the olive oil.  Bake in a 400 oven until it begins to brown, about 12-15 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside.

While orange and lemon slices are baking, prepare asparagus and vinaigrette:  wash asparagus; break off woody bases (see how to do this below).  Place spears in a 9 x 13 glass casserole dish.  Sprinkle with garlic, tarragon, and citrus strips.  Drizzle with 1-2 Tbsp olive oil; toss to coat spears.  Spread in a single layer.  Season with salt and pepper.

Roast asparagus in 400 oven, turning once or twice with tongs, until asparagus is tender, 12 to 15 minutes.  While it's baking make vinaigrette:  in small dish whisk together reserved orange and lemon juices with an equal amount of olive oil; season with salt and pepper.

Remove cooked asparagus from oven.  Transfer to serving platter.  Drizzle with 1-2 Tbsp of the vinaigrette and decorate with roasted orange and lemon slices.  Serve immediately.  Supposedly serves 4, but that's only if my husband and I aren't there :).  Otherwise, there's only enough for the two of us.

You probably already know this, but just to review how to prepare asparagus for cooking:
Select crisp, colorful spears with tightly closed tips that are similar in size for uniform cooking.  To remove the woody base, hold a spear in two hands and bend it.  Snap off the base at the point where the spear easily bends.  If the stem still seems tough, use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer layer.

P.S.  The roasted oranges are actually yummy too, if you're needing some Vitamin C and don't want to waste any extras :).  Also, you'll have some vinaigrette left over.  Don't throw it out -- it's delicious on green salad.

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