‘Tis the Season…for Asparagus! A Simple and Unexpected Salad

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I had the great fortune to travel to Germany a couple of times while working for an American company. On my first visit it happened to be asparagus season. OK, fine, you say, peak season and less expensive asparagus at the grocery stores and farmers’ markets. No… let me tell you. Asparagus everywhere, all the time, on every restaurant menu, and in nearly every dish. It was like some form of national pride and I experienced asparagus in lots of new ways. One of them was raw (but not like taking a chomp of asparagus as if it were a crudité with a buttermilk dip). It was quite pleasant and unexpected. Here I give you my version of an asparagus salad, loosely based on my memories from Stuttgart, Germany.

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I’ve tested this salad made with raw asparagus vs quickly blanched (Asparagus placed in boiling water for one minute, removed and placed in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking, and then patted dry). My test of the two ways was to see if the blanched version removed the “grassy” edge of raw asparagus. I prefer the raw version, but try it both ways and see which you like. For me, peeled and dressed raw asparagus (as explained in the recipe, below) alters the taste, so blanching wasn’t necessary. It’s also easier to peel asparagus spears raw.

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IMG_5300 (1)Here’s the recipe:

Asparagus Salad

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 pound asparagus (avoid the super thin and the super thick. Go for a medium thickness, about 1/4 wide)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (or, the juice of one whole lemon if you prefer)
  • Juice of half a lemon, plus 1 teaspoon zest
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Shavings of parmesan or pecorino cheese (optional)

Directions

  1. Holding the tail end of each asparagus spear flat on a cutting board, use a vegetable peeler and peel off strips of the asparagus from the tail to the tip (I get 6-8 peels from each asparagus spear). If your asparagus has a brown or white stalk end, begin peeling the asparagus where it’s green. You only want the green parts. Continue peeling until there’s nothing left of the spear. Do this for each spear. Place all asparagus peels into a large bowl.
  1. In a separate small bowl, combine all the remaining ingredients except for the cheese (if using). Whisk to combine, making a quick vinaigrette.
  1. Pour the vinaigrette over the peeled asparagus. Toss gently. If needed, strain the asparagus to remove any remaining vinaigrette that may have pooled at the bottom of the bowl.
  1. Pile the asparagus on a platter or bowl.
  1. Optional: Using a vegetable peeler, shave parmesan or pecorino cheese on top of asparagus salad.

Note: If you keep the same proportion for all of the ingredients, this recipe scales well to make more.

BONUS ROUND: Asparagus Salad Also Works as Pasta Sauce!

With a couple of little changes, this asparagus salad also makes a delicious spring pasta sauce.  The entire recipe can be completed in 15 minutes, but try to enjoy and take longer to eat it! 🙂

If you have a food processor or high-powered blender

  1. Make the dressing per the asparagus salad recipe but increase the olive oil to 1/3 cup and use the whole lemon’s juice and zest. Place in the bottom of a food processor or blender.
  2. Roughly chop the asparagus spears and add to processor or blender.
  3. Process or blend until minced, but not a smooth paste. Scrape down as needed.
  4. Bring 4 quarts of salted water (about two tablespoons of kosher salt) to a boil.
  5. Add half a pound of penne, or similar pasta to the boiling water. Cook until al dente (just short of cooked through per the pasta package instructions)
  6. When the pasta is nearly done cooking, heat a large sauté pan to medium heat and add two tablespoons of olive oil.
  7. Place the asparagus mixture into the sauté pan.
  8. Reserve one cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta.
  9. Place the pasta into the sauté pan with the asparagus and stir until well combined. Add some of the reserved pasta water to the pan if the sauce is too thick. Stir occasionally until the pasta is fully cooked (about 1 minute).
  10. Add shaved or grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese on top of the finished pasta (optional).

If you are making the sauce by hand

  1. Make the dressing per the asparagus salad recipe increase the olive oil to 1/3 cup and use the whole lemon’s juice and zest. Place mixture in the bottom of a large mixing bowl.
  2. Shave the asparagus spears with a vegetable peeler, per the asparagus salad recipe, and then finely mince.
  3. Mix the minced asparagus with the dressing. Keep, do not strain, the extra dressing.
  4. Bring 4 quarts of salted water (about two tablespoons of kosher salt) to a boil.
  5. Add half a pound of penne, or similar pasta to the boiling water. Cook until al dente (just short of cooked through per the pasta package instructions)
  6. When the pasta is nearly done cooking, heat a large sauté pan to medium heat and add two tablespoons of olive oil.
  7. Place the asparagus mixture into the sauté pan.
  8. Reserve one cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta.
  9. Place the pasta into the sauté pan with the asparagus and stir until well combined. Add some of the reserved pasta water to the pan if the sauce is too thick. Stir occasionally until the pasta is fully cooked (about 1 minute).
  10. Add shaved or grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese on top of the finished pasta (optional).

Author: gregnelsoncooks

Visit weekly for original and adapted recipes as well as cooking tips to make your kitchen life easier — and more delicious! I’ll include simple, straight forward instructions along with recipes that are truly worth your time making. And, recipes that elevate the familiar and introduce you to the new and unexpected.

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