Monday, May 2, 2011

ribboned asparagus salad with lemon

a nest of tangled asparagus

Spring arrived while I totally wasn’t paying attention. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen these days. Over the winter, this was hardly a discomfort but now that we’re getting glimpses of the warm weather to come, I’m finding it harder to look out my kitchen window at these people walking down the sidewalk with their sandals and short sleeves and a pep in their step and an air of freedom around them I can sense even from four flights up and not feel consumed with envy. The other day, as I wearily approached round five of something I was stupidly convinced I’d nail on round one, I saw one of these not-sweating-it-out-in-a-shoebox-kitchen types carrying a bundle of tulips and I had to close my eyes for a minute and imagine myself somewhere I’d rather be. And then I walked out of the kitchen and went there.

it's back!

You see, I’ve been avoiding the Greenmarket as well. It’s been a Brownmarket for over half a year and there are only so many cold storage apples and yams one can stomach before they fall for the ever-freakishly-ripe berries the street carts are selling. But it was nearly May and sticky as July outside and I had a hunch that things had improved while I was buried under pots and pans. And lo and behold, stands were bursting with things that had been recently plucked from the ground: spinach! ramps! bright pink orbs of radishes too! asparagus for miles! And as I brought home my first haul of the season — and a little package waiting downstairs — I knew exactly what every single one of us must do this very second with the asparagus.

ribbon-ing the asparagus

shaving off the parmesan
generous dose of lemon
very toasty pine nuts

A year ago, I signed a cookbook contract — no the cookbook isn’t finished yet, I mean, what cookbook? — and to celebrate, my editor and I went out to lunch at the Union Square Cafe. I ordered the asparagus salad and was presented with something fascinating — raw asparagus, thinly shaved, and heavily decked out with parmesan, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. It was, to be honest, overdressed, as if it were self-conscious about being uncooked but I ate the entire tangled plate just the same. Then I came home and turned it into a pizza for you but this time around, I think we should do it as a salad proper. With a peeler, a lemon, some pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil, you are minutes from turning your first bundle of asparagus stalks ribbony salad, and possibly question why you ever bothered cooking asparagus at all.

ribboned asparagus salad

One year ago: Homemade Pop Tarts, Cabbage and Lime Salad with Roasted Peanuts and Leek Bread Pudding
Two years ago: Russian Black Bread and Ranch Rugelach
Three years ago: Brownie Roll Out Cookies and Green Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad
Four years ago: Chicken Empanada with Chorizo and Olives and Barley, Corn and Haricot Vert Salad

Ribbony Asparagus Salad with Lemon and Parmesan
Inspired by the Union Square Cafe

This is such a fun way to celebrate the first asparagus of the season you bring home. And yes, I just reread that sentence and am fully aware that the concept of “celebrating asparagus” would have made me roll my eyes a few years ago, like maybe I’d been burning too much patchouli. But when you start trying to eat along with the seasons, you realize how long the winter is on the East Coast and begin to eagerly anticipate the day in spring when the first green things pop from the ground. Round here, that’s asparagus. And when it is as fresh as you can get it now, there’s no reason to cook it, not when you can turn it into a pile of ribbons and twist them around like spaghetti on your fork.

There are no exact measurements in this recipe. Everything is to taste, so taste as you go along to make sure you’re getting all the Parmesan, nutty, and lemony flavors you want.

1/4 cup pine nuts or sliced almonds, toasted* and cooled
1 pound asparagus, rinsed
1 lemon, halved
Olive oil
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 ounces Parmesan cheese

No need to snap off the tough ends of your asparagus. Lay a single stalk on its side on a cutting board. Holding onto the tough end, use a vegetable peeler (a Y-shaped peeler is easiest, but I’ve used a standard one successfully) to shave off thin asparagus ribbons from stalk to tip, peeling away from the tough end in your hand. [Updated] Discard the tough ends once you’re done peeling. Gently pile your ribbons on a medium-sized serving platter. Squeeze some lemon juice over the asparagus, drizzle it with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Toss gently and then use your peeler to shave curls of Parmesan right off the block, over the asparagus. Sprinkle with some toasted nuts. Repeat with remaining asparagus, a third of the remaining bundle at a time. Eat immediately.

* I toast mine in a single layer on a baking sheet at 350 for 5 to 10 minutes. It’s really important, especially with pine nuts, that you stay close and toss them frequently because they love to burn, but if you move them around a bit, you can get a wonderful, even coffee coffee color on them and an intensely nutty flavor. It makes even unfancy nuts taste amazing.


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