One of the best things about this time of year is when fresh asparagus starts stalking us at stores. You can’t get away from them — or get enough of them.
While I like asparagus in most any dish, adding it to salads is one of my favorite uses. Salads are ideal because asparagus goes well with just about any vegetable or greens. And thinly sliced pieces of raw asparagus are pretty and inviting. The salad should look vibrant, like a swatch of bright green paint colors.
When I add asparagus to salads, I find it’s best to use a light vinaigrette rather than a creamy dressing. Once cooked, asparagus becomes delicate and you don’t want a dressing that will overpower it or weigh it down.
For me, the No. 1 way to cook asparagus is roasting it in the oven. But grilling the spears is a very close second. A few years ago, my friend Patty said she’d never tried grilled asparagus. It’s now one of her favorites. Peas? Not so much; she’d pick them out of this salad.
When I grill or roast bunches of asparagus to serve at a party, there are usually none left over.
With today’s salad recipe, the asparagus is lightly cooked in boiling water to facilitate the cooking of the peas. But you can grill or roast it. You can add it raw, too, if you like.
Here are some tips for preparing and cooking asparagus:
Grill it: Rinse asparagus and pat dry. Place asparagus spears on a sided sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil and a generous sprinkling of kosher salt and, if desired, freshly ground black pepper. Give the sheet pan a shake to coat all the spears as evenly as possible with the oil and salt. Grill over direct heat, about 5 to 6 minutes depending on the thickness of the spears or until they are just crisp-tender. Don’t overcook them. The spears should have a slight crunch when you bite into them. To serve: Drizzle with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, favorite vinaigrette or balsamic glaze.
Roast it: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Follow instructions for preparing to grill asparagus using the olive oil, salt and pepper. Place in a 400-degree oven and roast about 5-8 minutes depending on the size.
Shave it: Using a vegetable peeler, shave raw asparagus lengthwise into long strips. Toss with any cooked long-strand hot pasta along with a light drizzling of olive oil, a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper. Don’t be shy – you can add a good amount of the shaved asparagus to the pasta.
Slice it: Thinly slice raw asparagus spears on the diagonal and toss them in your favorite mixed greens salads, pasta or potato salads.
Asparagus Salad With Peas And Crisp Prosciutto
You can make the vinaigrette a few days in advance and fry the prosciutto several hours in advance. This salad is terrific as a starter to accompany broiled or baked fish or grilled chicken.
Adapted from Food & Drink magazine, spring 2009 issue. Tested by Susan Selasky in the Free Press Test Kitchen.
2 teaspoons minced or pressed garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of sugar to taste
1-1/2 pounds asparagus
1 cup shelled fresh English peas or good-quality frozen peas
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 thin slices prosciutto, cut into slivers
6 cups mixed butter lettuces and arugula
In small bowl or glass measuring cup, whisk together all the vinaigrette ingredients. Set aside.
Peel and trim asparagus stems if needed. Bring a large skillet of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and boil for 2 to 4 minutes or until crisp tender. Add the peas during the last minute of cooking. Do not overcook. Transfer to a bowl and run cold water over the asparagus and peas to stop the cooking. Cut the asparagus into pieces.
As an option, you can grill or roast the asparagus. Drizzle spears with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Roast in a 400-degree oven for about 5 minutes or grill over medium heat. Cut the asparagus into pieces and place in a bowl with the peas. The heat from the asparagus will warm the peas.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the prosciutto and saute until crisp, about 1 minute. Remove to paper towels to drain.
Arrange lettuce and arugula on plates. Top with asparagus and peas. Drizzle with vinaigrette.
237 calories (69 percent from fat), 19 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 11 g carbohydrates, 9 g protein, 506 mg sodium, 10 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber.