This might be the simplest recipe that I will ever post on Harlem Food Local. Though I am the first to admit that most of food that I make and that I post is overly complicated and time consuming, I can be accused of no such thing if you’re going to make this recipe. Gone are the days of chopping, then sautéing, then slow cooking for hours. This recipe, from start to finish, has 6 ingredients (two of which are salt and pepper), and will take you no more than 8 minutes to prepare. Why so simple, you ask? Well, being a girl spent many a late afternoon cutting vegetables from ours or Nonna and Nonno’s garden to eat for dinner that very night, I appreciate vegetables in their most unadulterated form, and this salad let’s the asparagus sing.
This recipe, which is my way of paying homage to spring, to our amazing local farmers, and the beauty of a raw asparagus, is one of my favorite side dishes to add to any meal (or to eat as a light lunch with a bit of crusty bread and fresh ricotta) as long as I can get my hands on fresh local asparagus.
A Note about Finding the Perfect Asparagus:
Because fresh, young, tender asparagus are the foundation of this salad, if the grocery store was the only place I could buy them I would probably skip this recipe. Why? Well, the asparagus that bought on Friday morning (to eat on Friday night) were picked on Thursday night around 150 miles Northish of my front door, and were bunched and stored upright in water from the first moments they were picked. Asparagus from the grocery store? Their on-the-road-before-they-get-to-you life is much longer; most likely grown in South America, Mexico, or California, the asparagus that you see in the produce section were probably picked at least a week ago. Even if they are being stored properly (upright and in about ½ inch of water) their flavor, nutritional content, and tenderness will be far past optimal because of their age. Your best bet is to get them at your local farmer’s market. Think that fat asparagus won’t be tender? Turns out that an asparagus’ girth has nothing to do with it’s age, tenderness, or flavor. Much the way humans are genetically predisposed to having a certain body type, asparagus poke out of the ground genetically predisposed to being a certain thickness, and grow that way from the start. So, if you get to your favorite farm stand and all you see are short plump spears—go for it! They will be just as tasty as their skinny cousins!* And, if you happen to see the asparagus being sold loose or without water–you should pass on them because they won’t be nearly as juicy or tender.
1 bunch just picked asparagus, rough ends removed and chopped on a bias
½ half a lemon, juiced
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil (make sure you have a rich and fruity good quality olive oil)
Zest of half a lemon
½ tsb red pepper flakes
Coarse Himalayan rock salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Thoroughly wash and dry your asparagus bunch.
Using one of the more sturdy shoots as your guide, hold the top and the bottom of the stem and carefully start to bend it. The asparagus will naturally break at the spot where the rough woody ends turn into tender flesh. Using this first one as a guide, line up your bunch and chop the ends off (I don’t trow the ends out–I throw them in a ziploc and freeze them so I can use them for a vegetable stock, or to juice them later on). Or, if you’re me, and you don’t want to lose any tiny bit of their tenderness, I broke each one individually.
Using a very sharp and heavy knife, cut the asparagus on a bias into one inch long strips.
Put the chopped asparagus into a mixing bowl and add the extra virgin olive oil and squeeze the lemon juice onto the asparagus spears.
Zest the lemon rind directly onto the asparagus, add the crushed red pepper, and season with Himalayan rock salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss together.
Serve garnished with a paper-thin lemon slice, and prepare to enjoy one of the simplest and best salads you will have all Spring!
*This awesome truth about skinny and fat asparagus was discovered by my sister, the former Director (and Head Farmer) of the Yale Sustainable Food Project. Over the course of her seven year tenure as Director she ate many equally tasty and tender skinny and fat young asparagus to assert this exciting vegetable conclusion.