Sunday, June 30, 2013

Green Curlicues: Shaved Asparagus Salad

Confession: I haven't always liked asparagus. I don't know if it was something about the flavor or it's tendency to be cooked to a rather mushy, sloppy state or some other reason. In recent years, I have seen asparagus appearing in more and more places. Then my parents started growing it fresh in their garden, and I have to admit, the freshness factor did make it much more appealing, as did grilling it.

The final push to my asparagus salvation, however, was cheese. (Shocker!) One night at Memphis Tap Room, I ordered their Asparagus Mac and Cheese. I love, love, love mac and cheese and could go on and on about it for years, but instead I will cram that all into a separate blog post. So, back to asparagus. And cheese. I was admittedly a little apprehensive ordering it but figured a) Memphis Tap has never created anything that was not phenomenal, b) I need to try all the macaronis and cheeses. ALL, c) cheese makes everything better, and d) so does truffling things. Not surprisingly, my "gamble" paid off. Raw asparagus--that is how you do it! The mac and cheese was life-endingly delicious and somehow creamy and delicate and robust all at once. The asparagus then took it to an even smarter, more thought out level. It was crisp and added depth. As cheesy (oops, pun) as it may sound, it gave the dish that "je ne sais quoi."

So asparagus had won. With some help from Ms. Cheese and the good folks at Memphis Tap. Fast forward to me joining Greensgrow Farms' CSA. (You can catch up on my adventures with that here.) Week one, very first pick-up: fresh asparagus. Squeal.

In keeping with my exploration of this newly desired vegetable, I decided to yet again try something new with asparagus. I had been seeing some recipes involving shaved vegetables lately, and I was intrigued. I do love noodles of all kinds so this may have had something to do with it. I also like to see novel spins on things. Chopped or sliced vegetables? Boring. Grab the vegetable peeler, and let's go for vegetable shavings.
I wanted to make something that was simple and quick but with a bright, fresh flavor. Here it is. Like most things I make, this dish is far from rigid so experiment and put your own twist on it. I'm not one to measure or closely follow recipes but tried to do my best to capture what I created for your consuming pleasure. Hurry up and get to your farmers market now while the asparagus is fresh!

The asparagus and the egg are local, from the Greensgrow CSA

Gather your ingredients: fresh lemon, asparagus, egg, garlic, shallot (or red or green onions), dry mustard (or prepared dijon or stoneground), olive oil, salt, and pepper. Substitutions can easily be made with this recipe. Add fresh herbs, opt for a different protein in place of the egg (grilled chicken, bacon, etc.), or go with a flavored vinegar over the lemon juice.

Tangled mess of asparagus

Prepare your asparagus. I usually would do the "snap" method to prep the asparagus, where you bend the stalk until the woody part breaks off. The asparagus I used in this recipe was from Greensgrow's CSA and incredibly fresh so I just sliced off the very bottom. Next, make your asparagus ribbons. I have tried all sorts of vegetable peelers--cute ones with vegetables as the handle or ones with fancy ergonomic designs but nothing beats the one I was used to working with when I worked in a restaurant. Simple and basic, it never fails. Check your local restaurant supply store, or I believe it may be this.

Steamy deliciousness

Get steamy...but only briefly. Especially if you have very fresh asparagus, you could easily do this as a raw salad. I decided to do a quick steam, just enough to bring a little more color to the asparagus. Get the water boiling under the steamer basket, toss in the asparagus, and steam, covered for 30 seconds or less. Immediately rinse or dunk the asparagus in cold water and drain.

Now Hulk SMASH!

Prepare your dressing and poached egg. While your asparagus is draining, start the water for poached egg. While you are wait for that to boil, make your dressing. For my salad, I juiced a half lemon and tossed in some shallots, a garlic glove, salt, pepper, dry mustard, and olive oil. Toss this mixture in a food processor, blender, or hand prepare. I did the mortal and pestle method, smashing the garlic clove and roughly chopped shallot in with the rest of the ingredients. For those keeping track, I do not own a mortal and pestle (yet!) and instead used a bowl and the opposite end of a drink muddler. This will be enough dressing to have some leftover for other salads (extra yum for later!). Next, poach your egg. I make a passable poached egg so I do not have any great wisdom to share. For those that want to take their egg poaching to the next level, however, I would suggest this article.

Finished product

Assemble and enjoy. Get yourself a big shallow bowl, plop your sexy green curlicues of asparagus in there, drizzle your dressing over (amount to taste), and top with a poached egg. Garnish with black pepper, and you're ready for delight!

Delicious yolk volcano

I was very happy with how this turned out! The dressing has a nice lemony tang, but the egg yolk adds a rich and creamy element. The garlic and shallots--well, you can't go wrong with them. For the accompanying wine, I went with a vinho verde. I usually am a red wine drinker, but as the weather gets warmer and balmier, I am delving into the world of white wines. I paired this salad with Gazela Vinho Verde. Vinho verdes are "young" wines (or the literal translation "green wine") from Portugal that have a slight (and quite refreshing) effervescence. I have tried several and so far like Gazela the best. Not only is it not as sweet (I am not one for sweet wines) as some others I have tried but is also incredibly affordable. An all around excellent summer sipper.

Cheese bliss and luscious strawberries

A summery success! I finished off my meal with a sweet and savory dessert. The featured cheese discounted (every week there are designated cheese and meat CSA-only specials) at my CSA pick-up that week was Calkins Creamery's Vampire Slayer because what would be a great follow-up to a garlicky lemon vinagrette than some garlic infused cheese? Quite delish. Cheese, cheese, I love cheese. For sweetness, I had some lovely, local, fresh strawberries (from my CSA pick-up as well). Now to melt into the couch in food bliss...

BONUS PIC: Even Rosalita was interested...

Shaved Asparagus Salad:

Fresh asparagus (6-8 stalks per serving)

1 egg

For the dressing (makes enough for 2-3 servings):
1/2 lemon
1/4 shallot
1 garlic clove
1 t dry mustard
Salt & Pepper (to taste)

1. Clean the asparagus and remove the woody portion of the stalk.
2. Using a vegetable peeler, shave asparagus into ribbons.
3. Heat water to boiling below steamer basket or tray.
4. Place asparagus ribbons in steamer for 30 seconds or less. You are steaming only long enough to bring a little more of the color out in the asparagus but retain the fresh "al dente" nature.
5. Dunk asparagus in ice water to stop cooking. Drain and set aside.
6. Start boiling water for poaching.
7. Combine the dressing ingredients. Utilize mortal and pestle, blender, or food processor to achieve desired consistency.
8. Poach the egg.
9. Prepare salad, drizzling dressing over the asparagus ribbons, and top with the poached egg and fresh black pepper.

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