It just didn’t seem right to allow spring to pass without one more mention of asparagus. It is by far one of my top ten favorite vegetables and so versatile you could write an entire book of recipes where it is highlighted. It was apparent at Saturday’s farmers market that we are reaching the end of the season here in our area of the country, but depending where you are located, it may be in season longer. There is nothing like local, fresh, seasonal asparagus so don’t be tricked into buying it in winter when it ships from Mexico or other far away places as it will leave you yearning for that bright flavor secured in your memory from the season past. When purchasing this member of the lily family, choose firm, bright green (or pale ivory if buying white) stalks with tight tips. There is conflicting thoughts about thin versus thick stems and which has the most flavor but I think they are all really good. The thickness is an indicator of the age of the plant it comes from. The older the plant the thicker the stalk. I choose the ones that look the best or what might work well in the recipe I am planning to prepare. Another point of disagreement is whether when picking or prepping, one should snap or cut with a knife. I have grown this vegetable for 13 years and I am of the “snap” school of thought. When you snap it will naturally break where the woody, undesirable part starts so what remains is just the most tender. You can trim the very end with a knife if it is ragged and you like it to look neater. I prefer to cook any vegetable as quickly as possible after it is picked for ultimate freshness but if that is not possible I store it standing upright in a tall container with the bottoms submerged in an inch or so of water. Some prefer to use a vegetable peeler to scrape the bottom of the stalks to make them uniform thickness for cooking but I rarely do this as I hate the waste. They require little, or in the case of this recipe, no cooking, so I have never encountered a problem leaving them as nature intended. You do what makes you happy.
Recipe Serves 4-6 as a side
1 bunch asparagus, thinner stalks work best for this but any size can be used, tough bottoms snapped off and trimmed, if desired
Pecorino Romano cheese, shaved thin with a vegetable peeler, enough to scatter over the top
4 very thin slices prosciutto (Italian salt-cured ham), cut or torn into small pieces (optional, but adds a lot)
Extra-Virgin olive oil
1 recipe vinaigrette (recipe below)
- Cut the asparagus, excluding the tips, crosswise very thin. Place in a medium bowl. I like to leave the tips small but whole for presentation and texture.
- Add the raw or pickled onion.
- Dress rather heavily with the vinaigrette (see below) and mix well. The acid in the vinegar will tenderize the asparagus so this can be done up to one hour ahead if desired but not absolutely necessary.
- Drizzle a small amount of olive oil in a small saute pan and cook prosciutto until crisp but still tender.
- Transfer asparagus to a serving platter and sprinkle top with broken pieces of the Pecorino Romano and top with the crisped prosciutto.
Vinaigrette (can be made earlier in the day or the day before)
1/2 T shallots, finely minced
1 rounded t Dijon mustard
1/4 t sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 T red wine vinegar
1/3 c extra-virgin olive oil, use your good quality stuff for this.
Mix all the ingredients in a small jar and shake well to blend and emulsify. Taste and adjust the ingredients to suit your taste. You want tho achieve a balance of acid, oil and salt but some prefer (my sister and I for example) it a bit more acidic. Make it for your palate.
This bright tasting salad goes well with grilled meats, pasta, fish or egg dishes. I served it the other night with Grill Roasted Tarragon Chicken (refer to blog post May 17, 2012 ) and it was a delicious pairing. The Pecorino Romano and prosciutto add a salty note which off sets the acidity of the vinaigrette. I think you are going to love it!
Enjoy the gifts of the season and eat asparagus heartily until it is no longer locally available. That is what I do and I am left sated until next spring. No winter asparagus for me.
Have a favorite preparation, tip or flavor pairing? Would love to hear from you.