You’d think a blog with the word salad in its title might occasionally feature a salad recipe. In the case of this blog, you’d be wrong. To date, When Harry Met Salad features only one recipe for salad, a late spring salad that also highlights asparagus. The truth is we don’t eat much salad worth mentioning. Chris doesn’t like it (!!!) and I generally can’t be bothered to do much more than dress greens with vinaigrette for just me. But last weekend I fanned my farmers market purchases out over the dining room table and arranged them to photograph. I nestled a bunch of tiny pink radishes in alongside bright green stalks of asparagus and admired the graceful curve and deep purple-greenness of wild mint, and when I looked through the viewfinder of my camera I immediately thought salad. This is that salad.
I sliced the radishes and asparagus into coins and drizzled them with olive oil, lemon juice, and a little honey. Then I tossed in a handful of chopped mint, seasoned the vegetables with salt and white pepper, and carefully folded in crumbled bits of incredibly creamy local feta. And because I was also in the middle of a chive blossom vinegar project, I finished the whole thing off with a smattering of chive blossoms. Sometimes I get a little carried away.
“Hmmm, that looks like something I wouldn’t like,” Chris observed when I emerged, crunching, from the kitchen. And it’s true: he wouldn’t. But you might. With or without the chive blossoms, this salad is really lovely. It’s fresh and crisp and pleasantly vegetal. The sharp, peppery flavor of the radishes and the tender greenness of the raw asparagus mingle with the sweet, aromatic notes of mint, and all this bright freshness is beautifully balanced by the creamy tang of goat’s milk feta. It’s a salad that’s delicious in its simplicity, a salad that captures the fleeting flavors of early summer and hints at the bounty yet to come, a salad that’s totally worth making for just you.
Asparagus, Radish & Mint Salad with Feta
1 lb. fresh asparagus
2 bunches radishes
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
½ tsp. honey
3 Tbsp. mint, chopped
4 oz. feta, crumbled
salt and white pepper, to taste
2 chive blossoms (optional)
Slice the asparagus and radishes into thin coins or discs, slicing as thinly as you can. (I tried this with both a mandoline and a knife — the knife was actually faster and easier.) Transfer to medium bowl and drizzle the olive oil, lemon juice and honey over the vegetables; stir to combine. Fold in mint and feta; season with salt and pepper to taste. If using the chive blossoms to garnish, separate the individual florets from the large blossom and scatter over the salad. Serve immediately.
Asparagus, finally! That wild mint is especially beautiful, isn’t it?
I know I said I had everything under control in terms of cooking real food, and I did. Briefly. But then I decided to renovate our little log cabin — a rather ambitious project that involves messy, time-consuming things like drywall and terribly inconvenient things like gutting the entire kitchen (the entirety of which is a mere 62 square feet, but still). And a couple of months ago, Chris popped into our not-yet-gutted kitchen to announce that he wanted to be with me all the time forever, so I’m also planning a wedding. It’s a very small, very casual wedding (as far as weddings go), but still. Then there is also the small matter of my actual job and the fact that I’m pretty obsessive about pretty much everything.
These are not the sort of conditions that foster creativity in the kitchen. These are more the sort of conditions that foster major meltdowns in the grocery. I know this because I recently had such a meltdown. It involved a box of Rice-a-Roni, which is pretty much rock bottom for me. I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy Rice-a-Roni. Actually, yes, I am saying that. You shouldn’t buy Rice-a-Roni. I shouldn’t buy Rice-a-Roni. Nobody should buy Rice-a-Roni. Real food is important, and it is really really easy to make rice. Sometimes we buy Rice-a-Roni anyway. I get that.
But I firmly believe that is it just as easy to make good food as it is to make bad food, and it generally takes about the same amount of time. Lately I’ve been making asparagus. I bring a basketful home from the Farmers Market every week and delight in figuring out how to turn those pretty green stalks into dinner. Asparagus pesto is an old standby, but my favorite of this season is an asparagus bread salad. It’s bright and fresh and hearty all at the same time, with dainty slivers of asparagus and tender white beans nestled in among chunks of crusty grilled bread. The bread soaks up a bit of the lemony dressing without becoming soggy and the whole dish is accented with bits of parmesan. All of this comes together beautifully and quite deliciously, in a way that says, “Oh yes. Food. How lovely to see you again.”
Despite the home renovation and the wedding plans, I intend to do more with this blog than pop in every four months to announce that I got too busy to cook anything worth mentioning but I promise to be good from now on. A girl can only do that so many times (two?) before she starts to look silly. Plus, maintaining a blog about seasonal cooking helps discourage me from buying packaged crap.
Asparagus & White Bean Bread Salad
adapted from Gourmet
I tossed in a handful of salad greens, but I think the salad is actually better without them. The greens appear in the photo but not in the recipe. Feel free to add them if you like.
1 lb asparagus
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ c. + 2 T. olive oil
1 15 oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed well
½ t. finely grated fresh lemon zest
2 T. fresh lemon juice
½ t. salt
¼ t. black pepper
4 slices thick, crusty bread
4 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano
¼ c. chopped parsley
1) Trim woody ends from asparagus and slice on the diagonal into ¼” thick slices.
2) In a large sauté pan, heat ¼ c. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus and sauté for about 1 minute. Add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds. Stir in the beans, lemon juice and zest, then season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
3) Brush both sides of the bread with remaining 2 T. olive oil and grill (or broil, if you’d prefer) over high heat until nicely browned, about 3-5 minutes. Cool slightly and tear the bread into bite-sized chunks.
4) Spoon asparagus & bean mixture into large bowl, add torn bread, and toss to combine. Shave cheese over salad, sprinkle with parsley, and toss again before serving warm.
I spent a significant portion of my life steadfastly maintaining that mushrooms were for trolls. Most kids would have been content to simply wrinkle their noses and refuse to eat mushrooms, but I built up an elaborate justification for my distaste: namely that mushrooms are squishy and grow in wet, woodsy places. Where trolls live. And, what with my not being a troll and all, I couldn’t reasonably be expected to eat them. Of course, then I became a vegetarian, so I couldn’t reasonably be expected to eat cute little animals who had lived lives of suffering and misery either.
I can be rather difficult at times, which is probably why those who knew me in my troll-food days feel particularly vindicated when I call them to enthuse about an upcoming mushroom festival or to describe the day I spent helping a farmer inoculate logs with shiitake spawn or to report that I’ve just eaten an entire morel and asparagus pizza and boy was it yummy.
For months now I’ve flipped wistfully through magazine after magazine, mooning over photos of dark green stalks and oohing and ahhing at recipes as I daydream of Spring. I’ve repeatedly paused beside the co-op’s local produce cooler, glancing from turnip to, well, turnip and heaving great put-upon sighs before wending my way listlessly among the monotonous aisles of pantry staples. I’ve attempted to cheer myself up by flirting with spinach and chard and other leafy greens as they’ve appeared, but I’ve remained inconsolable. I’ve been waiting for asparagus.
What I hadn’t counted on, despite the praise heaped upon them by every publication from Bon Appétit to National Geographic, was ramps. Wild ramps, by virtue of their very wildness, are a hallmark of culinary hipster-dom, the food world’s equivalent of skinny jeans and high-top Chucks and loving that band long before you’d ever even heard of it. But that’s no reason not to try them. Ramps grow in moist, wooded areas across most of the US and parts of Canada and are easily distinguished from their lily of the valley look-alikes by their ridiculously oniony smell. I found mine not far from the asparagus — in the produce cooler, safe and sound inside a clear plastic bag bearing a handwritten sticker that identified them as wild ramps. I suspect this makes me a bit of a poseur, but as long as I steer clear of broken-in chinos I’ll probably be okay.
Asparagus appeared in the co-op’s local produce section a few weeks ago, like magic. As if I wasn’t already high enough on spring. And because there’s a very short window before it’s back to dried out ol’ Peruvian asparagus, I’ve been buying several pounds of it at a time. Much as I’d like to, I’m not capable of eating several pounds of asparagus a week, and Chris wouldn’t touch asparagus even if it was deep fried and enveloped in multiple layers of bacon.
He is, however, a huge fan of pesto, and after stumbling upon this recipe at epicurious, it occurred to me that pesto made with asparagus might not look so different from pesto made with basil. Plus, you can do a hell of a lot with pesto, including freezing it, and the idea of a dollop of asparagus on baked fish in the dead of winter was rather appealing.
So I tossed a pound of asparagus and a few cloves of garlic into a baking pan with a little olive oil and a little salt, roasted it for about ten minutes, then dumped it all into the food processor with a handful of toasted pine nuts, some grated parmesan, and more olive oil. And voila, asparagus pesto.