A Crispy, Cheesy Upgrade for Roasted Asparagus

A low-effort, high-reward panko topping turns plain asparagus into a star side

Panko and Parmesan cheese become a crispy, golden brown topping for roasted asparagus. (Cheyenne Cohen)

By BY Katie Workman

When my husband Gary and I were first dating, he told me he really liked asparagus, but hadn’t eaten that much of it. It was not a vegetable he had grown up with at home. So our first spring together, I made it. A lot.

I made it simply roasted, I blanched it and served it with dips, I included it in soups, I added it to stir-fries, I mixed it into hot pasta and pasta salads.

And then at some point, he mentioned that while he did in fact like asparagus, he didn’t necessarily want to eat it at every meal. I think it was when I made the all-asparagus lasagna that he felt the need to slow me down a bit. My memory is hazy as to whether or not I took offense, but I do remember him saying it, so clearly the moment stuck with me.

I now regulate my asparagus output to what I think is a reasonable and universally acceptable pace. And my kids love asparagus as well. When they were really little, one of my boys only liked to eat the tips, and the other one only liked to eat the stalks, which—while weird—worked out nicely.

How to Buy, Store, and Cook Asparagus

Unlike some vegetables, which I will prepare all year round (broccoli or spinach, for instance), asparagus is pretty much confined to the spring months, when it is really truly in season. It makes it feel more special, and of course, if you are enjoying a vegetable in season, that also may well mean that it’s local, which means that it’s fresher. Look for asparagus at your local farmers market—that’s as fresh as it’s going to get.

Choose asparagus that are bright green with no shriveling, and tips that are tight and firm. Sometimes there might be a hint of a purple tone in the tip, which is fine. It’s likely that the base of the stalks will look dry, but you will be trimming those off anyway.

The best way to store asparagus is to trim off the bottoms, then stand them in a tall wide glass, vase, or pitcher in a few inches of cold water, and store them in the fridge. They should last for two or three days that way. You can also leave them in a bag in a produce drawer, but they do tend to get a little banged up and age a bit faster.

You can prepare asparagus by steaming it, boiling it, grilling it, sauteing it, microwaving it, or—as in this recipe—roasting it. You want to use fairly thick asparagus for this, since you need to roast them until the panko mixture has a chance to brown in the oven. Thin asparagus would cook too quickly; by the time the panko mixture gets nice and toasty, the asparagus would be pretty limp.

To prepare asparagus for cooking, especially thick asparagus, you’ll want to trim off the woody ends. Often the suggested method for doing this is to hold the asparagus a couple of inches from the bottom and snap it where it naturally breaks. You can certainly do this, but I find that you lose too much of the bottoms this way. And while the outer layer of the lower part of thick asparagus is often unpleasantly fibrous and tough, the inside of the stalk can be tender and smooth.

What I recommend instead is to cut off the bottom inch or two with a sharp knife, enough so that all of the dry or woody bit is removed. Then, take a vegetable peeler and peel off the outer layer of the bottom three inches or so, to get to the tender, paler inside. This way, you waste less of the vegetable, and it also looks awfully elegant.


Taking It Up a Notch

Panko is Japanese breadcrumbs, light and flaky in texture. They are often used to coat foods for frying, but here, in combination with a generous amount of flavorful Italian Parmesan cheese, they become a crispy topping for roasted asparagus.

The amount of garlic called for here is not insignificant—thus the title of the recipe—so if you and your clan prefer a less overtly garlicky flavor, reduce the amount by one or two teaspoons. It will still be delicious.

If you want to double the recipe, go right ahead, but if you want to triple it, make sure to use two baking sheets and divide the asparagus and bread crumbs between them. You need the asparagus to stay in a single layer to cook evenly and for the breadcrumb layer to do its thing. Rotate the sheets halfway through cooking, so that each has its chance to be on top and brown up nicely.

What the Kids Can Do

If you do choose to snap off the ends of the asparagus, then even little kids can help with that. Otherwise, older kids can be supervised in cutting off the bottoms of the asparagus with an age-appropriate knife, and peeling the bottoms of the stalks with a vegetable peeler.

Kids can also toss the asparagus with the olive oil, help measure the ingredients for the panko topping, combine the mixture, and then sprinkle it over the top of the asparagus.

Garlicky Roasted Asparagus With Parmesan

This recipe is just a notch more effort than simply roasting asparagus, but has a lot of interest, thanks to the pretty, crunchy panko topping.  It would be great as a side dish for everything from pork to beef to salmon to chicken to ham.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 12 minutes

Serves 4

  • 1 pound 1/2-inch thick asparagus
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced parsley
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. If you want an easier cleanup, line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Trim the bottom two inches from the asparagus stalks.  Use a vegetable peeler to peel off the outer layer from the bottom three inches of the trimmed asparagus.  Or if you prefer, snap off the bottoms of the stems where they naturally break when you bend them.

Place the asparagus on the rimmed baking sheet and drizzle over 1 tablespoon of the oil. Toss the asparagus with the oil, and spread out on the baking sheet.

In a small bowl combine the remaining tablespoon olive oil, garlic, Parmesan, panko, parsley, and salt and pepper. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the asparagus. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on their thickness, until the asparagus is just tender and the panko mixture is golden brown. Serve hot or warm.

Katie Workman is a food writer and recipe developer in New York City. She writes the popular blog TheMom100.com and contributes to many publications, and has written two cookbooks: “The Mom 100 Cookbook” and “Dinner Solved!”


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