Grill baby grill!
You can really tell it’s Memorial Day weekend around here. Firstly, three-quarters of the city is gone, probably to the Cape or up to New Hampshire, which makes it feel exponentially more relaxed and sane around here. (And makes the roads much more conducive to my continuing driving practice as I finally learn how to drive a stick shift.) And secondly, the smell of grilling is permeating every square inch of the air. From every porch and backyard in the area, the scent of charcoal and meat and sauces is wafting, pretty much around the clock. It means my mouth is doomed to be continually watering, all weekend.
And, whoever is in charge of the weather took the whole ‘Memorial Day is the start of summer’ thing very seriously. It’s like they ran into a back room and flipped the summer switch because, where one week ago I was putting on fleeces and wrapping an afghan around myself while sitting at home reading, now I suddenly find myself wandering about the apartment in a featherweight sundress and kind of wishing I could just go naked. I can’t. We have guests. Also neighbors. And a dearth of curtains.
Being a big geek/of the occasionally obsessive persuasion, the sudden onset of heat has me feeling slightly saddened about the impending end of asparagus season. But, it’s not quite gone yet! And yesterday I rushed to sneak some in at lunch, tossed with a flavor-packed anchovy and lemon vinaigrette (can a dressing technically be a vinaigrette if it doesn’t actually have vinegar? I may have to google this…) and accompanied by a hunk of cheese. Yes, that’s right, there were anchovies in the vinaigrette. I’m guessing some of you have already gotten on the anchovy train and are nodding your heads knowingly when you hear about anchovy-lemon vinaigrette. And some of you are like, “smelly little fishies, ewwww!” But, I think you should join us on the train. Really. It’s a fabulous and scrumptious place.
Anchovies are a magical secret ingredient. They bestow a wallop of umami (the 6th flavor that makes things taste full-bodied and basically all around delicious) along with a bit of salty briny-ness to whatever they are paired with, but without being overpoweringly fishy. They smell fishy by themselves, it’s true, but when you use them, they melt right into what you’re making leaving just “oooh-mommy.”
I think my first real encounter with anchovies paired with vegetables was about 5 years ago when a friend made me Mark Bittman’s recipe for cauliflower sauteed with garlic, red pepper flakes, and anchovies. I went from being skeptical to being hooked in the merest of instants. I’ve been adding these flavors to vegetables ever since, and let me tell you, there are very few vegetables, once sauteed, roasted, or grilled that don’t taste good with garlic, lemon, red pepper and anchovies. The tang, salt, spice, and, of course umami, of the dressing was wonderful with the tender, grassy spears of asparagus. And it was good on the little piece of bread I used to mop up all the extra dressing on my plate too.
My one regret was that I sauteed the asparagus rather than grilling them, because I think that, with that light charcoal note, the dish would have been even better. So, I’m going to go ahead and tell you to grill them instead. Go forth and grill!
Grilled asparagus with lemon anchovy vinaigrette (serves 4-6)
- 2 bunches of asparagus
- 2 1/2 Tbs. olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 1 large garlic clove, peeled and chopped
- 4 anchovy fillets, chopped
- 1 Tbs. lemon juice
- a couple pinches of red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley, cilantro, or basil
- Wash the asparagus, and snap off the woody bottom portion of the stems. Then, in a big pan, toss them with 1 1/2 Tbs. olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper.
- Using a mortar and pestle or the flat side of a big knife, smash the garlic and anchovies to a coarse paste. (If using the knife, do this by alternating between smashing and chopping motions until everything is mashed together.)
- Whisk the lemon juice, garlic anchovy paste, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Heat your grill, and grill the asparagus over high heat for about 5-6 minutes, turning once halfway through, until it has light charred marks and is bright green and tender. Toss the cooked asparagus with the lemon-anchovy vinaigrette and chopped herb of your choice, add more salt and pepper to taste if you wish, and serve warm.