Market Watch: asparagus shines in a simple salad

Stalking the Spring

by Peggy Paul Casella

Spring hasn’t really sprung until you’ve snatched up your first bunch of asparagus from the local farmers market. It livens up any dish with its grassy, floral flavor, and the prep work—bending each spear until it snaps toward the bottom end—was one of my first kitchen tasks as a child. As an added bonus, asparagus also happens to contain a wide variety of nutrients, including vitamins C, A, E and K, folate, magnesium, iron and fiber. Choose firm spears with compact tips. Asparagus plants take two to three years to become productive and can live for up to 10 years, producing thicker stalks as they age. Larger, older asparagus are just as delicious as the spindly young ’uns, but they may have tough outer skins, which should be peeled away before using. Asparagus will keep for three to four days in the refrigerator, stored in a plastic bag or standing upright in an inch of water.

Uses: Serve raw (shaved or finely chopped) on salads, pizzas and tacos. Steam, roast, broil, grill or pan-fry. Toss chopped spears into stir-fries, or blanch them and add to omelets, frittatas, stratas, tarts, pasta dishes, grain salads and casseroles. Pickle them. Cook and purée them in springtime soups. 

Raw Asparagus Salad with Parsley and Pistachios
(Serves 6 to 8)

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound asparagus, tough stems trimmed and discarded
  • 2 cups flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 2/3 cup shelled unsalted roasted pistachios
  • Shaved Parmesan cheese

Directions:
1. In a small bowl, combine the salt, black pepper and lemon juice. Whisk until the salt is dissolved, then keep whisking while you add the oil to the bowl in a slow stream. Set aside.

2. Lay the asparagus spears flat on a cutting board and slice them very thinly on a diagonal (a few stalks at a time) to create thin, oblong slices. Transfer the asparagus slices to a large salad bowl, add the parsley and pistachios, and pour the lemon vinaigrette over top. Toss well, divide the salad among plates and garnish with shavings of Parmesan cheese. 

Peggy Paul Casella is a cookbook editor, writer, urban vegetable gardener, produce peddler and author of the blog Thursday Night Pizza