There is no stopping it now - spring has sprung. First there were ramps, then fiddleheads, and there may be morel mushrooms popping up today after last nights rain but it's the King of Spring I've been waiting for.
Asparagus is (finally) among us!
The growing season for local asparagus doesn't last very long in Elgin County so it's a mad rush to consume and preserve as much of it as quickly as possible. I have plans to attempt some fermentation experiments with the spears in the coming weeks (asparagus kimchi, anyone?) as well as gorging on it grilled & caramelized hot off the barbeque.
For my first taste of the year though I prefer a simpler preparation full of freshness and green: blanched and refreshed then combined with other vegetables and dressed with a lemon vinaigrette. Serve this salad with a poached egg, grilled chicken, and/or toasted bread for a light spring fling with the king (I couldn't resist the rhyming).
Feel free to use any combination of vegetables you have available for this salad. I know the pickings are still slim in the produce department for local goods but as long as you serve young and tender Ontario asparagus the dish will be delicious. I used edamame beans (frozen from last fall), sugar snap peas, Romanesco broccoli, and asparagus in my salad. Green beans, green peas, pea shoots, wild leeks, broccoli, celery, or even a few mushrooms would be great additions.
To keep the vegetables green and crisp, I use a technique called 'blanching and refreshing'. The blanching refers to submerging the food item in boiling, salted water for several minutes (could be 1-3 minutes depending on size) until the item is just knife tender. The food is then immediately removed from the pot and placed into a bowl of ice water (called refreshing). 'Refreshing' halts the cooking process preventing soggy, mushy, overcooked vegetables. I do recommend blanching each of the vegetables separately (although using the same pot and water) as each item will have a different cooking time. Asparagus does not cook at the same rate as broccoli, for example. Once the vegetables have cooled in the ice bath, remove them from the water and lay them out onto a towel to drain off excess moisture. Set aside until you are ready to assemble the salad.
Did you know I went through both years of chef school training without ever poaching an egg? I've made up for it in the subsequent years.
To poach an egg, use the freshest eggs possible and cook gently. Instead of using boiling water, the pot should barely be simmering when adding the eggs, meaning the water just ever-so-slightly quivers with tiny bubbles, never rapid, large bubbles as they would demolish the delicate egg. The addition of a little salt and 1 Tablespoon of white vinegar to the simmering water will help coagulate the egg keeping its shape in tact. Room temperature eggs work best, always cracking the egg into a small bowl to 'pour' the egg into the water as opposed to dropping it directly from the shell.
After the eggs are cooked, use the 'refreshing' technique listed above for vegetables if you're not serving the eggs immediately. Place them into ice water until they are cold then store in cold water. When you would like to serve them, reheat in simmering water for one minute before plating.
Spring Asparagus Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
6 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 T fresh lemon juice (1 lemon)
1 T finely grated lemon zest (+ strips for garnish- 1 lemon)
2 T chopped Italian flat leaf parsley leaves
1 T minced shallot or red onion
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 lb Ontario asparagus, cleaned, cut into 3-inch spears
1/2 c edamame or sweet peas
1 c sugar snap peas, sliced on the bias into 1-inch pieces
1 c broccoli stalks and stems, cleaned and trimmed to thin slices and small florets
4-6 eggs (optional)
1 T kosher salt
1 T white vinegar
Ice for refreshing
Long strips of lemon zest for garnish
Recipe adapted from Serious Eats.
Eating. Drinking. Sharing.