June 14th, 2010
I have three words for you. Favorite. Salad. Ever.
We eat a lot of asparagus. It’s in season. It’s great steamed, roasted or even cooked in the microwave (yes, you read correctly… even Mark Bittman does it). It’s good for you. And, thanks to good texture and being easy to cut up into various bite sizes, it’s easy to feed kids. But, truth be told, I’m not a number one fan. I like it. Really, I do. It’s just not my favorite vegetable. Well, except when prepared like this. This salad was a revelation.
It couldn’t be easier to make. Just hold the bottom of a raw, washed asparagus spear and run a vegetable peeler towards the tip over and over. (No need to snap off the bottoms; in fact, some smart food folks think you should never snap them off). Each stroke of the peeler creates a long, thin strip of asparagus. Toss with a simple vinaigrette and cheese—cubed fontina was perfect!—and you’re ready for a quick weeknight meal or entertaining.
I was a bit nervous about eating asparagus raw. I figured that whatever it was that keeps it from being a favorite of mine would be amplified. It was the opposite. Cooking asparagus intensifies its flavor. But raw, at least eaten in thin strips like this, the flavor is mild, like a more subtle version of the asparagus I’m used to eating.
I served this salad alongside thin slices of pan seared flank steak topped with caramelized shallots. It was a perfect summer meal. Hearty and light, fresh and rich, all at the same time.
The recipe for the salad is below, but feel free to customize it by using your favorite semi-soft or crumbly cheese and your favorite vinaigrette (I’d stick to something made with light colored vinegar). If you want to make the whole meal, start by melting a couple of tablespoons of butter in a skillet, preferably cast iron. Season the steak with salt and pepper and sear both sides, cooking until done to your preferred temperature. In the meantime, make the salad. Remember to keep an eye on your steak! When it’s done, while it rests, add a mess of thinly sliced shallots and an extra drizzle of olive oil to the hot pan, still over heat. Caramelize and, right before they’re ready to come out, add a hearty splash of red wine vinegar. Stir, scraping off any bits stuck to the pan, until all of the liquid is cooked off. Slice the steak and top with shallots. Soup’s on.
Shaved Asparagus & Fontina Salad
(can be served to kids 8-10+ mos)*
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp honey
1 bunch fresh asparagus, shaved
1/2 c fontina cheese, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1. Use the first 6 ingredients to make a vinaigrette. My favorite, super quick method is to shake all of the ingredients in a mason jar.
2. Toss vinaigrette, asparagus and cheese until everything is well coated. Add salt and pepper to taste.
*Note: Asparagus is safe to feed children as young as 6 months but, practically speaking, this salad is hard to manage for children who aren’t yet eating finger food. If feeding a very beginner eater, simply steam a couple of stalks to puree for them. You can even mix in a tiny bit of vinaigrette and/or cheese.