It's far from a perfect world, but a perfect recipe exists. For years I've proclaimed Cooking Light's Asparagus [or Green Beans] With Balsamic Browned Butter to be their best vegetable recipe ever, and possibly my favorite of any source. In CL's anniversary issue (20 years, I think) they reviewed their very best ever recipes in various food categories, and they agreed with me that they outdid themselves on this one. And it's straightforward enough to be this week's No Fuss/Learn To Cook recipe.
Much to my surprise I'm still finding asparagus at the DeKalb Farmer's Market, and it's not crazy expensive, either. At least not any more crazy expensive than asparagus is in the summer... Fresh green beans work fabulously well with this sauce instead of asparagus, as will zucchini or yellow squash (I like to make a melange of zucchini and yellow squash to add color to the plate).
I've served this asparagus with simply grilled fish, with roasted chicken, with pork tenderloin - all kinds of things, very simply prepared. The key, particularly if you're new to culinary adventures, is to have only one strongly flavored dish per meal. If you're serving herb-crusted rack of lamb, then plain mashed potatoes will work soooo much better as a side than rosemary roasted potatoes. It's the culinary equivalent of over-accessorizing.
According to this very detailed article on asparagus (who knew there was so much to say??), select asparagus that is firm and green, with compact tips. If it's soft, sparse-looking on the flower end, or yellowish, skip it. And since this is roasted, get the thicker spears if you can, since thin will cook very quickly and will need to be watched carefully.
Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Browned Butter
40ish asparagus spears, trimmed (about 2 pounds)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or two or three dashes of regular table salt)
3 or 4 twists of black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce (or Tamari, if you need a gluten-free option)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (it has to be balsamic for the sweetness; other vinegars will be too sour and won't work)
1. Trim the asparagus by snapping off the woody end wherever it naturally snaps. If you're crunched for time and can't sweet-talk someone into doing this step for you, just line up the asparagus on your cutting board, ends aligned, and chop about the last 2 inches off.
2. If you need easy cleanup, line a baking sheet with foil and spritz the foil with cooking spray. Skip the foil if you wish.
3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
4. Arrange the asparagus on the baking sheet so that none of the spears are overlapping. This will help them to cook evenly. Spritz the asparagus with cooking spray.
5. Sprinkle the asparagus with salt and pepper. Bake for 12 minutes (check on it at 10; if it's a little brown, take it out).
6. Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Cook for 3 minutes or until slightly browned, stirring occasionally. You can do this step while the asparagus is in the oven.
7. Remove the skillet from the heat; stir in the soy sauce and the balsamic vinegar.
8. Drizzle over cooked asparagus. My preference is to move the asparagus into the serving dish, then drizzle. Toss the asparagus to make sure all pieces have some of the sauce.
I honestly don't know how well the leftovers keep, because we never have any left.