Asparagus is the undisputed king of the season. Steadily emerging through the dark soil as a ready spear, its arrival trumpeting the beginning of the spring harvest. When bundled, it’s even crown-like in appearance. Today I will honor its reign by sharing my Roasted Asparagus with Prosciutto & Fontina recipe with you, a take on the classic wrapped asparagus with a few must-have additions.
In April and May, this part of rural New Jersey is alive with asparagus! Local restaurants hold annual asparagus festivals and you can be certain that you’ll be served this king of the spring while dining out – think Asparagus Grilled Cheese, Asparagus Risotto, Asparagus Quiche, Asparagus Lasagna, and that’s just some of the dishes you will find!
At the local farm market, their own harvest is displayed in bountiful bundles. I’ll always grab two, even if I still have some at home, because there’s something sacred and beautiful about food that grows where you live.Depending on where you’re from, you will be graced with white, green or violet-colored asparagus. The range of colors is the direct result of the amount of sunlight, or lack thereof, that the crop has received. The asparagus of choice in many parts of Europe is fat and white. To achieve this ivory color, the plant is covered by mounds of soil to prevent any contact with sunlight. Even the harvesting occurs before dawn – before the thrusting spears can reach the light, avoiding any chance of photosynthesis. Purple asparagus is the young shoot of the asparagus plant and it has a subtle sweetness. Then there is asparagus in varying shades of sunlight-produced green that we are most accustomed to here in North America. Just as the colors vary, so do the recipes. Today’s recipe is simple and easy to prepare as a side dish, appetizer, or even a light lunch. While the preparation of wrapping asparagus is common, it’s the addition of fontina cheese, a light vinaigrette, heaps of chopped fresh parsley and warm crusty bread (of course!) that takes this familiar dish to the next level. Don’t skimp here, it’s worth these few, easy, extra steps. And the best part of all? It’s ready in under 30 minutes.
First make certain you have quality ingredients like farm-fresh or organic asparagus, Prosciutto di Parma and quality imported Italian fontina. If you cannot find true fontina, substitute with quality parmesan shaved into long ribbons.
Note, if using parmesan – both parmesan and Prosciutto are salty, so you might want to consider using a boiled unsmoked ham instead.To get started we’ll take a few stalks of asparagus, top their stems with fontina and wrap them with a slice of Prosciutto di Parma. After all the bundles have been assembled, generously drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Roast in a preheated oven for 15 minutes or until the asparagus is tender and the spears have nicely browned. The Prosciutto will become slightly crisp and the fontina warm and melted. The bundles are then topped with additional shavings of cheese and heaps of roughly chopped fresh parsley. The finishing touch is a good, but simple, vinaigrette. To mop up all that lovely flavor, keep that crusty bread close by! Although this is a simple dish to prepare – your family or guests will feel like they’ve been treated to something very special. Pair with a white wine or champagne (I’ll take the champagne, please) and you’ll have yourself a light, but elegant, spring dish.
…And I think I’ve officially exhausted the word “asparagus”… 😉
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Roasted Asparagus with Prosciutto & Fontina
18 thick spears of fresh asparagus
1/2 pound Italian fontina (or parmesan, see notes) cheese, cut into thin slices, and some more for sprinkling
6 large thin slices of Prosciutto di Parma or unsmoked boiled ham
Kosher salt and pepper
Bunch of fresh parsley, tough stems discarded, leaves roughly chopped
For the Vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
1/2 cup of quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Kosher salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper;
- Trim away the bottom 1 inch of the asparagus. If the ends are stringy or the stems too thick, trim away a little more (see notes);
- Open a slice of Prosciutto di Parma (or ham) and place 3 spears of asparagus on it (feel free to bundle 4-5 spears if working with more asparagus). On top of the spears, fit a slice of fontina cheese. Wrap the slice of Prosciutto di Parma tightly around the spears and cheese (secure with a toothpick if needed). Continue until you have used all the asparagus and cheese (if wrapping 3 spears, you will have 6 bundles in total);
- Place the bundles on the lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 15-20 minutes or until the Prosciutto and asparagus have nicely browned and the stems are tender. While asparagus is roasting, prepare the vinaigrette;
- Before serving (remove toothpicks, if used) and top with shavings of fontina or parmesan, chopped parsley and a generous drizzle of vinaigrette. Use the warm crusty bread to mop it all up.
For the Vinaigrette:
- Combine oil and vinegar, thicken by vigorously mixing with a fork. Season with salt and pepper to taste. May need to be mixed again after the ingredients have settled.
If the stalks are too thick and fibrous, use a paring knife or vegetable peeler to peel away some of the stem.
If asparagus isn’t being used the day of purchase, stand the bundle in 2 inches of cold water (stem sides in the water) and leave for a day or two until ready to use.
If using parmesan instead of fontina, consider using unsmoked boiled ham since both the parmesan and Prosciutto di Parma are salty – you won’t want to over salt your asparagus bundles.