- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Asparagus is fun to cook. You can steam it, boil it, grill it or roast it. For this recipe, I like to roast medium-size asparagus that have been peeled and trimmed. You can’t beat the rich, grassy, slightly caramelized flavor of roasted asparagus.

For a French accent, these bright-green stalks are dressed with hazelnut oil vinaigrette and garnished with toasted hazelnuts. Sweet and buttery hazelnuts, also known as filberts, are popular in French cooking.

The richly flavored hazelnut oil has a distinctive taste. It is used mainly as a condiment or in salad dressing since it has a very strong flavor. I pair it with a lighter olive or vegetable oil to mellow the taste. Remember to store the hazelnut oil in the refrigerator and use within 4 months.

If you can’t find hazelnuts or the oil, try the red-pepper vinaigrette instead (see below). The sweet pepper dressing is a colorful and tasty alternative. This is also much more economical, since you can use what oil you have on hand.

I often serve this warm as a first course or as a side dish with a simple grilled entree. I have also doubled the recipe and served it chilled or at room temperature with either vinaigrette. Try these either way when you feel like a fresh take on asparagus.

Roasted asparagus with hazelnut oil vinaigrette

Makes 4 servings.

1/2 cup hazelnuts or 1/2 cup toasted chopped hazelnuts

HAZELNUT OIL VINAIGRETTE:

3 tablespoons hazelnut oil

3 tablespoons oil

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon finely ground pepper

ASPARAGUS:

1 1/2 pounds fresh medium asparagus spears, peeled and trimmed

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast hazelnuts in oven for 10 minutes. Remove and rub off skins with a dish towel and coarsely chop. Reserve.

For hazelnut oil vinaigrette: Whisk together ingredients. Reserve.

Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees. Place the asparagus spears on a baking sheet and toss with the oil and salt and pepper so they are evenly coated.

Roast for about 12 minutes or until tender, very slightly browned. The time will depend upon how thick the asparagus is.

Using tongs, place the asparagus on a platter and spoon vinaigrette over. Sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts; serve warm.

Red pepper vinaigrette

2 medium garlic cloves

1 medium shallot

3 tablespoons finely chopped sweet red pepper, seeded

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped basil leaves

1/2 cup olive oil

GARNISH:

2 tablespoons pine nuts

2 tablespoons finely chopped, seeded, sweet red pepper

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process the garlic, shallot, and red pepper until minced. Add the vinegars, lemon juice, mayonnaise, salt, pepper and basil. Process until combined. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil. Taste for seasoning. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toast the pine nuts until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

When ready to serve, pour the vinaigrette evenly over the asparagus. Sprinkle the diced red pepper and toasted pine nuts on top and serve immediately.

• Diane Rossen Worthington is the author of 18 cookbooks, including “Seriously Simple Holidays.” To contact her, visit www.seriouslysimple.com.

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