As any quick forage through this site’s archives confirms, I am not devoted to quick prep, single digit ingredient lists, or other varieties of minimalistic meal construction. Rather, the idea of spending the afternoon in the kitchen stirring and whisking and kneading and puttering delights me. But sometimes, I concede, you do need something that is quick but still screaming with flavor, and when I need that in springtime, I’m almost always going to land on asparagus.
With a pound of turgid green spears in my vegetable drawer, I was digging through the shelves in search of half a lime I knew I had stashed away for a different meal, when my fingers lit upon the miso paste – a sad little plastic container with the same few tablespoons wedged into its corner as six months ago – and I decided it needed its time in the sun (well, in the oven, anyway).
Asparagus seem delicate, but their flavor when roasted is sufficiently pronounced that they can stand up to heavy seasoning. With its salty meaty savoriness, miso seemed an appropriate pairing on a spring day that really wasn’t. I added a few other flavors to meld things together: fish sauce and rice vinegar for a bright and sour kick and a bit of extra funkiness, and a few drops of sesame oil in with the olive oil for extra toasty sheen, but really the stars here are the asparagus and the miso.
This is a bold partner routine. The slight bitterness of the asparagus mellows into nutty sweetness as it roasts, and the miso mixture coats and caramelizes on the thin spears. And all, if you are being very efficient with your time, in about 25 minutes, depending on how quickly your oven deigns to preheat. That is, dare I say it, right in line with how much time you often have to produce a weeknight dinner.
Since these are so strong in flavor – grassy and woodsy from the asparagus and deeply savory from the miso coating – you need something sturdy and singular to serve with it. I think simply seasoned grilled meat would work well, or a portabella mushroom pan-roasted in thick slices, perhaps with a mound of fluffy, buttery mashed potatoes nearby.
Miso Roasted Asparagus
Serves 2-4 as a side dish
1 pound asparagus spears, woody ends snapped off
1 tablespoon red or white miso paste, at room temperature or slightly warmed
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon fish sauce (you can leave this out if you must, but I like the funk)
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
- Preheat the oven to 400F and line a 9×13 inch baking tray with aluminum foil for easier cleanup. Tumble the asparagus onto the foil lining.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. If the miso is reluctant to combine, heat the mixture up for 20-30 seconds in a microwave and whisk again, or use an immersion blender. The end result should be an oily paste, almost like a well-mixed tahini or natural peanut butter in texture.
- Pour and scrape the miso mixture over the asparagus. Using your hands, massage it onto the spears so that each is well coated. Some of the miso mix will refuse to adhere; that’s okay. Spread the asparagus spears out into a single layer.
- Slide into the preheated oven and roast for 15-18 minutes, until the asparagus spears are olive green and tender. The precise time will differ depending on the thickness of your spears. Bits of miso mixture at the edges of the foil may get a bit dark, but the majority clumped on the asparagus will simply toast and caramelize.
- Serve hot as an accompaniment to a sturdy, simply flavored main course like grilled meat or portabella mushrooms with mashed potatoes.