By Melissa Clark, The New York Times
Judging by the pinking of my neighborhood in cherry and magnolia blossoms, COVID-19 can’t stop spring. And this means vegetables like ramps, green garlic and asparagus have been making their way into the markets, bringing a needed relief from those wintry pantry staples we’ve all been relying on. I may have to wait on a snaking line 6 feet away from the person ahead of me to get some, but it will be thrilling when I do.
Of all the spring produce, asparagus is what I’m most excited about, with verdant, fried egg-topped, Hollandaise-slathered visions crowding my head. On the lighter side, there will also be plenty of plump, steamed stalks drizzled with olive oil and eaten out of hand. Sometimes, I’ll get fancy and toss the spears with herbs, cheese and nuts for a slightly more elaborate salad.
In a perfect, “I can just run to the store for an ingredient” world, I would dress my salad with a lemony shallot vinaigrette, grated young manchego or pecorino, and top it with toasted pistachios.
That’s what I did when I first made this recipe a few weeks ago, and it was a paragon of springtime loveliness — fresh, sweet, tangy and crunchy from the nuts, which added yet another shade of green to the plate. Satisfying enough for a light lunch or dinner when rounded out with some crusty bread, it was also excellent as a side dish to roast chicken or fish.
But, given the moment we are in, the best part about it may just be that like most salads, it’s extremely flexible. You can use vinegar or lime juice instead of the lemon. Any semifirm variety of cheese that you can grate will work: cheddar, Gouda, even Parmesan (though that will add more salt, so you might want to use less of it in the dressing). Whatever allium you’ve got — scallions, red onions, a clove of garlic — can stand in the for the shallot.
Even the asparagus isn’t strictly necessary. Broccoli or broccolini would be an excellent substitute, giving the salad a similar crisp juiciness to asparagus when steamed.
Does it feel strange to give a recipe for asparagus salad and then write that the asparagus is negotiable? Maybe. But it’s also practical and, I hope, helpful. Then, when you do get your hands of some gorgeous, purple-tipped asparagus, this recipe will be here, waiting for you.
Recipe: Lemony Asparagus Salad With Shaved Cheese and Nuts
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 20 minutes
- 3/4 cup pistachios or other nuts
- 1 pound asparagus, woody ends trimmed
- 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons soft herbs, such as dill, parsley and tarragon, or a combination
- 3 tablespoons minced shallots, red onion or scallion
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (or cider vinegar)
- Large pinch of kosher salt, plus more as needed
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
- 3/4 cup coarsely grated cheese (1 1/2 ounces), preferably a young sheep’s milk, such as pecorino or manchego, but any firm cheese works, plus more for serving.
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, spread pistachios in an even layer and toast for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool enough to handle, then roughly chop.
2. Meanwhile, fill a large skillet with 1 inch of water. Place steam basket on top, cover and bring to a simmer. Steam asparagus until just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain.
3. Finely chop 3 tablespoons mixed soft herbs. In a medium bowl, combine shallot, lemon juice, a pinch of salt and the pepper, and let sit for 2 minutes. Whisk in oil, then stir in pistachios, cheese and chopped herbs.
4. To serve, drizzle asparagus with oil and salt to taste. Dollop with dressing, tear remaining 1/2 cup herbs on top, and sprinkle generously with more cheese. Taste and adjust salt as needed.