Roasted asparagus with balsamic and parmesan on a plate.

Last week, in preparation for a chat with Margaret Roach all about asparagus, I found myself scouring my favorite seasonally organized cookbooks, namely Canal House Cooks Every Day by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer.

Having followed the Canal House ladies for years now, I’ve come to associate asparagus with them — and them with asparagus. When I see fat spears at the market, I think of their insistence on peeling the bottoms, an effort I’ve yet to make, to ensure they cook evenly. I also think of their shaved asparagus salad, one I love, one that introduced me to using the vegetable in its raw form.

When I opened Canal House most recently, I found a recipe I’ve previously overlooked — it’s written start to finish in eight sentences, does not include an ingredient list or a photo, and takes up about an inch and a half of the page. I made it immediately and know it will be the one I make most often this spring both for its simplicity and deliciousness.

Here’s what you do: roast asparagus with olive oil, salt, and pepper. When they’re just beginning to char, transfer them to a platter, shave parmesan over top, drizzle with aged balsamic vinegar, and season generously with freshly cracked black pepper. Devour immediately.

A Few Notes

  • The critical ingredient here is aged balsamic, which generally is very pricey. Last summer a friend introduced me to Testa’s Pantry Balsamico di Modeno, which I can buy locally at the Niskayuna Co-op but which is available to purchase online, too. It’s syrupy and delicious, and it’s $16.99 for a 250 ml bottle. This is a great — a more than great — value. (For some reference, an 8.5 oz (roughly 250 ml) bottle of Villa Manadori typically goes for $49.95. I have not done a side-by-side taste test with Testa’s balsamic against other more expensive varieties, but I have no doubt Testa’s Pantry would hold its own.
  • If you don’t feel like splurging on balsamic vinegar, you can make your own by simply reducing 1/4 cup of standard balsamic vinegar stovetop until it gets syrupy (see recipe for details). I do this with Ina’s Roasted Brussels Sprouts.

Simple Roasted Asparagus, Step by Step:

You’ll need about a pound of asparagus. Ever since receiving the homegrown asparagus in two little plastic cups filled with a small amount of water a few weeks ago, I’ve been storing my asparagus at room temperature the same way. They’ve been keeping beautifully.

Asparagus in glass jars with a little bit of water.

Snap away the bottom ends.

Asparagus, on a board, ends snapped off.

Cut the asparagus spears in half. Transfer to a 9×13-inch baking dish or a sheet pan or something similar.

Asparagus, unbaked, in a baking dish.

Season with salt and pepper. Dress with olive oil. Transfer to the oven for about 20-25 minutes or …

Asparagus, seasoned with salt and pepper, unbaked in a baking dish.

… until the tips of the spears are beginning to char.

Roasted asparagus in a 9x13-inch glass baking dish.

Transfer to a platter.

Roasted asparagus on a platter.

Shave parmesan over top; then drizzle with syrupy balsamic:

Roasted asparagus with balsamic and parmesan on a plate.

So simple, so good.

Roasted asparagus with balsamic and parmesan on a plate.

If you don’t feel like splurging on balsamic vinegar, you can reduce 1/4 cup of standard balsamic vinegar until…

Balsamic in skillet.

… it reduces by a little more than half. Transfer the balsamic to a bowl immediately because it will continue to reduce as it sits, and if it reduces too much it will turn sticky and caramel-like.

Reduced balsamic in a skillet.
Roasted asparagus with balsamic and parmesan on a plate.
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Roasted asparagus with balsamic and parmesan on a plate.

Simple Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic and Parmesan

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Adapted from the Canal House Cooks Every Day cookbook.

Asparagus: The Canal House ladies, Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, suggest purchasing fat asparagus and peeling them. Do this if you are able to or simply buy what is available. I never peel — lazy! — but do so if you wish.

Balsamic: You can buy aged balsamic vinegar that’s syrupy or you can simmer balsamic vinegar until it’s reduced by half its volume. Simply simmer  1/4 cup vinegar in a small saucepan until it is thick and syrupy. Keep a close watch the entire time, and transfer the balsamic to a small bowl as soon as it starts to thicken because it will continue to reduce as it sits. This will give you 1 to 2 tablespoons of syrupy balsamic vinegar.


  • 1 lb. asparagus spears, see notes above
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt, preferably flaky sea salt — I’ve been using Maldon for this one
  • freshly cracked black pepper to taste
  • Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1 tablespoon syrupy balsamic vinegar, such as this, or see notes above


  1. Heat your oven to 425ºF, convection roast if you have it.
  2. To prepare the asparagus, snap off the end of each spear. Discard or compost the end. Cut the spears in half. Transfer to a 9×13-inch baking dish or a sheet pan or something similar.
  3. Drizzle with the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss with your hands to ensure each spear is nicely coated and seasoned. Transfer pan to the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the tips of the asparagus are just lightly beginning to char.
  4. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer to a serving platter. Taste one spear. If it tastes under-seasoned, sprinkle the entire dish with more salt to taste. Using a peeler — this is my favorite — shave parmesan over top to taste.
  5. Finish the dish by drizzling the syrupy balsamic over top.
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Category: Side Dish
  • Method: Oven
  • Cuisine: American, Italian