Cooking to Eat: From The Department Of Green
This is a good time of year in the kitchen, isn’t it? I am all for a low and slow braised dinner, which requires lots of chopping, searing, and building flavors over hours in the oven. And I do love the height of summer when ingredients need only salt, pepper, some good olive oil, and a hardwood charcoal grill to get to the plate in a delicious state. But this time of year we are in between—you still need to turn the oven on (or grill) or get some sauté pans out, but we are finally able to eat from the local earth. I wanted to wax on about ramps, especially pickled ones, but the season was so fast, I never got to them. A bummer for certain, but there are plenty of other awesome green things popping up from the earth. The current darling, is of course, asparagus.
Fat, thick stalks are my personal preference—I find them nuttier—but others opt for the thinnest possible (I think they are a bit bitter, but to each her own, no?). Either way: Get yourself some asparagus while they are fresh from our neighboring farms. They do travel well, and sure you can get them year round from God knows where, but right now, they are burgeoning with a flavor that is, in my mind, beyond just vegetal or green—they are spring.
I like to make an open-faced tart with them. I use a simple pate brisee dough (whatever is your favorite) and line a tart pan with removable bottom with the dough. Add a layer of caramelized onions (one medium onion, thinly sliced, cooked in butter on low for 30 minutes or so), then a layer of asparagus (trimmed of their “woody” ends and if using thick ones, you may want to slice them in half lengthwise), add a dozen or so teaspoon-sized blobs of fresh goats cheese and bake about 30 minutes in a 375 oven. A perfect lunch or appetizer.
I also totally dig this salad, it is asparagus-y, bright from the lemons, and the almonds and peas echo the nuttiness of the asparagus.
Asparagus and Fresh Pea Salad
2 bunches asparagus, washed and cut into 5-inch pieces (tough bottoms discarded)
1 c. shelled fresh peas
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1?3 c. whole almonds
2 tsp grated lemon zest
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
About 10 fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Garnish: 4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler.
In a large bowl, combine 3 cups very cold water with 1 dozen ice cubes. In a large saucepan, bring 6 cups well-salted water to a boil; add asparagus. Return water to a boil and blanch asparagus 5 minutes (8 to 10 minutes if using thick spears). Remove asparagus with tongs (reserving water in pan) and place in ice water 1 minute; remove from water, dry, and set aside. Bring cooking water back to a boil and blanch peas about 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in ice water 1 minute. Strain and dry well; set aside.
In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, saute shallot in olive oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove shallot to a small bowl and set aside. Add almonds to hot oil and toast 6 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently, being careful not to burn. Add almonds to shallot and mix in lemon zest, juice, peas, and mint leaves.
Arrange asparagus spears on a serving platter (or divided among six salad plates). Season pea and almond mixture with salt and pepper, then spoon over asparagus. Garnish with Parmigiano-Reggiano.