If you still have asparagus…

May 19, 2016

An old favorite, resurrected and improved.

An old favorite, resurrected and improved.

For my readers in the Northern climes, where the asparagus season is not already just about over (sad face), here’s an old favorite tried-and-true salad that I dearly love, and haven’t thought to make, for some reason, in ages. But I’m sure glad  I remembered it.

It’s the one at nine o’clock in the above photo, which also includes a diced caprese (in the bowl, at 12 o’clock), jail slaw and marinated veggies.

I first made this salad back in the dark ages, when I was a college student, living on my own in an apartment for the first time, and had invited friends over for dinner. I wanted to fix something sophisticated.

I got those little five-ounce filets wrapped in bacon at the grocery store; sprinkled them down with meat tenderizer, since they are somehow, and doggoned if I know how, as tough as a piece of round steak if you don’t. I got big baking potatoes, wrapped them in foil and stashed them in the oven. And I made what seemed to me at the time to be the most tres chic salad I’d ever had, from a recipe I’d read in the newspaper.

It was a can of asparagus, cut up; a can of tiny green peas; and a can of sliced mushrooms. The whole thing got doused with some vinegar and some oil, and topped with a sprinkle of parmesan from the green can. I served it on top of sliced tomatoes.

I thought it was possibly the height of classy dining. And I guess, for the late 1970s, particularly for a college student, it was. It was, nevertheless, quickly scarfed down, chased by three or four bottles of equally classy plonk of some type. I do not think it was Mad Dog 20-20; I had certainly graduated from that by that point.

A fine time was had by all.

Fast forward several years, to when I had discovered fresh asparagus and its superiority over its canned cousin. Also, by this time, I had discovered the superiority of fresh frozen early June peas over their canned counterparts. I made the salad again. And I used wine vinegar, and good olive oil, and grated my own Parmigiano, and sauteed my own mushrooms. And just for the fun of it, I added hearts of palm, because I had had them not too much before at a restaurant in NYC, and love ’em. The results were a revelation! Certainly it bore a resemblance to the original, but the flavors and texture were far superior. I made it a few times that summer…and then I forgot it.

I’m not certain what brought it back to mind this year, but I bless whatever did.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 1 pound asparagus, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces, tough ends of stalks broken off
  • 1 12-ounce bag frozen green peas, or 1 pint fresh, shelled, if you can find them
  • 1 can hearts of palm
  • 12 oz. button or cremini mushrooms, sliced and sauteed in just a tiny bit of butter until they give up their liquid and are nicely done, cooled
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup good olive oil
  • chopped fresh herbs, whatever you have on hand. Tarragon is wonderful, but basil, oregano, thyme and/or chives are also excellent.
  • 1/2 cup grated parmigiano
  • sliced tomatoes, for serving

Blanch the asparagus and peas  until just crisp-tender. Cool and drain.

Drain hearts of palm. Put all veggies in a bowl and toss to distribute. Top with parmigiano.

Whisk together oil and vingegar; stir in fresh herbs. Pour over salad and toss again. Serve room temperature, but keeps a good while in the fridge; you just need to nuke it a few seconds to take the chill off before you serve it.

I didn’t have mushrooms on hand, so I left them out of this version. Really, the asparagus and peas are all that are critical. You could add most any vegetable you wanted; just blanch it to crisp-tender first.

This is another of those make a bucket of it and keep it in the fridge dishes for spring and summer. I’ve had lunch off mine for about four days, and I’ve got a couple of meals to go. It’s good atop mixed greens with some chopped grilled chicken, too.

You ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em enjoy this!

 

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