The outdoor farmer’s market season started here two weeks ago. This is a big deal for some of us. We Chicagoans view the start of the outdoor market season as a beacon of hope that better, warmer, sunnier weather is coming. Though this past winter wasn’t too bad, we cling desperately to every little sign possible. It’s been a tough start; the first week was chilly and I was caught in a deluge, arriving at my car soaking wet. The second week was downright cold and I received several warnings not to plant the basil plants I had just purchased until it inched up over 55°F. Oh I know, I replied, I’ve been bitten in the ass by that before. We laughed knowingly as only those who have had to yank out frostbitten tender seedlings can. Looking around, I saw the usual suspects of a new market season: asparagus and rhubarb. Harbingers of spring and predictable or not, into my bag they went.
I love asparagus and am thrilled those first few weeks when it turns up in fat green and purple bundles. But I was starting the season a little tired of my typical preparations: roasted, grilled, sautéed. Not a good sign. I’m not ballsy enough to puree the beautiful stalks into a soup, nor do I even care to, but I needed a few new ideas. I perused the internet while I munched absent-mindedly on a raw stalk, honestly my favorite way to eat asparagus at this time of the year.
Mark Bittman (formerly of the New York Times and even more recently, of the vegan meal kit service Purple Carrot. Oh my lord.) had the same feeling; no surprise. He reminded me of something I’d often help plate in my restaurant days – a shaved asparagus salad. Perfect.
I have a few choices at my asparagus stand – thin, thick or medium stalks? Green or purple? This time I went with fat stalks of both colors, stalks as thick as my thumb. First went the tips, which were then sliced lengthwise because of their size and tossed into a bowl. I tried shaving the stalks into long, thin ribbons with my mandoline as we did at the restaurant but quickly learned that I greatly preferred my cheap vegetable peeler. It was easier to use, I didn’t fear losing a finger and the slices were thinner. As Bittman recommended, I sliced the now tender and sweet cores into small rounds and tossed them into the bowl with the ribbons and the tips. So far so good.
Over the mixture went a few glugs of good olive oil, a good squeeze of half a lemon, a good pinch of flaky sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper. A quick toss and the mixture was divided among a few plates (with some creative placement of the beautiful tips.) I grabbed the vegetable peeler again and shaved nice, thin shards of pecorino pepato on top. Parmigiano Reggiano would have been great too but I‘d recently purchased a lovely chunk of pepato, a sharp salty sheep’s milk cheese with black peppercorns. It’s a favorite of mine and was delightful on top of the salad.
I stood back and admired my handiwork. It was beautiful and sung with spring freshness. This salad was ready in about 5 minutes and tasted light and fresh and bright. It really hit the spot in a way that roasting, grilling, steaming didn’t. Couldn’t. And it felt very fancy. Quite a trick to have up your sleeve when the asparagus is particularly nice. The purple asparagus is particularly nice treated like this as the purple color doesn’t hold very well with heat, rather it turns a rather dark green with cooking. Leaving it raw let’s that purple hue shine.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: SHOW OFF. This is one of those recipes you make when asparagus is good, fresh and especially lovely. When it’s still sweet and crisp and hasn’t turned tough and fibrous from too long of a storage period. It’s probably one of the easiest things you’ll ever make and because of this, your ingredients, all your ingredients, need to be delicious. If asparagus is showing off at your market, then you should show off too with this salad.
Other asparagus recipes: Roasted Asparagus w/Stilton Sauce, Puff Pastry Asparagus Spears, Roasted Tomato & Asparagus Quiche
Seven years ago: Chino Farms Strawberries
Six years ago: Cooking for Frank Lloyd Wright
Five years ago: Smoky Ginger Bacon Cookies
Four years ago: Banana Fudge Layer Cake
Three years ago: Chocolate Bourbon Lard Cake
Two years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise
Last year: Parmesan Pea Dip
SHAVED ASPARAGUS SALAD – a few minor tweaks of this recipe
Makes 2-4 servings
1 ½ – 2 pounds fat asparagus
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1-2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
good pinch each kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Freshly shaved Parmesan or Pecorino Pepato
- Snap off the fibrous bottoms of the asparagus spears; discard.
- Cut off the pretty tips and place in a large bowl. If the tips are particularly large, cut in half lengthwise.
- Use a vegetable peeler to remove the dark green (or purple) outer skin of each spear in long thin ribbons; you should get 4-6 ribbons from each one. Place in the bowl with the tips.
- Cut the remaining stalks crosswise into ¼” rounds and add to the bowl.
- Drizzle the asparagus with a good glug of the olive oil, then a good shot of the lemon juice. Toss to coat.
- Season with salt and pepper, then toss again.
- Divide the mixture among 2-4 salad plates, then with a vegetable peeler, shave small ribbons of cheese atop each plate.
- Serve immediately.