Monday, May 12, 2014

Market Inspirations: Asparagus & White Bean Salad with Arugula (and a bonus recipe for a Versatile Two-Olive Sauce for Fish)

As we sat down to dinner on Saturday I was struck by how much I love this time of year.  It is finally warm enough to eat out of doors...and the food that fills our plates is fresh from the market.  What could be finer? Our meal was just a simple white bean salad, but it was made special by the presence of local asparagus and arugula...purchased that morning...directly from the people who grew it.  It was so delicious.  What a privilege and pleasure it is to be cooking from the market again.

I served our salad with some pan-seared salmon.  I am partial to salmon in the spring and early is so lovely with the early pale green vegetables...asparagus, as well as artichokes and peas...but I think the salad would be good with any number of varieties of fish and seafood.  Scallops, Shrimp, Halibut and Swordfish all come to mind.   As originally conceived, this salad was a vehicle for leftover salmon (whether poached, roasted, baked, grilled or pan-seared)...broken into large chunks and folded in with the asparagus.  In this form it would make a great salad for a buffet...or a boxed lunch (bearing in mind that the acidity of the vinaigrette will dull the color of the asparagus).  It would also be pretty good without any fish at all.

I like this salad a lot—just as written—but on Saturday I left the olives out and topped the salmon with a delicious olive sauce instead.  

On this particular occasion, the sauce was a leftover (from a dinner earlier in the week of halibut with broccoli and couscous), but it was so good I will certainly make a point to serve the two together again.  The sauce—a loose tapenade-like concoction from Joyce Goldstein's Kitchen Conversations—is spiked with a generous dose of orange zest and juice, making it an especially good companion for the asparagus.  Even if you don't make this salad, this is a great sauce to have in your repertoire if you like fish. 

Finally, since the white beans are the backbone of this salad, I really think they should be freshly cooked from dried.  But if cooking dried beans is a task you hate, you can of course make a very nice salad with a good quality canned bean (just make sure you rinse them before adding them to the salad).   At one time I was a bit of a snob about canned beans...really frowned on using them.  But over the years I have discovered that they can be a pretty good product...a "convenience" food that isn't awful or too much of a compromise.  I keep canned items to a bare minimum in my kitchen, but I admit to always having a can or two of beans (especially cannellini, chickpeas and black beans) on hand.  If you would like to cook dried beans for this salad, I am including a great method from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  It uses the gentle heat of the oven to produce soft, creamy beans that still retain their shape—exactly what one wants in a salad. 

White Bean Salad with Asparagus & Arugula

For the vinaigrette:
1/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 to 1 t. fennel seed, toasted and finely crushed
1 clove garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
1/2 c. olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper

For the salad:
3 c. cannellini beans, canned or cooked from dry (see note below)
1/2 c. finely diced red onion, well rinsed under cold running water
1/4 c. chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 T. chiffonade mint
16 to 20 Kalamata olives, halved (optional)
1 medium bunch asparagus, trimmed, sliced on the diagonal into 1 1/2-inch lengths, then blanched and refreshed under cold running water
4 or 5 handfuls arugula (or other favorite salad green)
1/3 c. toasted pistachios, chopped (optional)

To make the vinaigrette, in a small bowl whisk together the lemon juice and garlic.  Gradually whisk in the olive oil in a thin stream to form an emulsion.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Set aside.   

To make the salad, drain and rinse the beans and place in a large bowl.  Add the onions, the herbs, olives (if using) and about half the vinaigrette.  Toss to coat.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  At this point, the beans can be left to marinate for up to 30 minutes.

To finish the salad, place the arugula in a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with some of the vinaigrette.  Toss to coat and divide among four serving plates, spreading out to form a base for the rest of the salad.  Add the asparagus to the beans and gently toss to coat, adding more vinaigrette if necessary.  Divide the bean mixture among the plates, mounding in attractively on top of the greens.  If desired, sprinkle each salad with some of the chopped pistachios.

Serves 4

  • To cook the beans from dried for a salad, soak them in water over night (to get three cups cooked, you will need to start with 1 1/4 to 1 1/3 cups dried). Drain the soaked beans, rinse them and transfer to a shallow baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil. Cover the beans with boiling water by one inch. Cover the pan with foil or a lid and transfer to a 325° oven. Bake until the beans are tender all the way through, salting when they are half cooked. This will take about 2 hours—depending on how fresh the dried beans are. Cool and store (in the refrigerator) in their cooking liquid until ready to use.
  • You can serve this salad as is or as I did with some salmon (or other fish) cooked however you like. To pan sear the salmon (as pictured): heat a sauté pan (large enough to comfortably hold all of the fish) over medium-high heat. While the pan is heating, season the fish on both sides with salt & pepper. Add a thin film of oil to the pan. When the oil is very hot, add the fish, skinned side up (if the fish is skinless....if serving with the skin, put the side with the skin down first). Cook until nicely browned (or the skin is crisp if serving with the skin), regulating the heat as necessary to prevent smoking but at the same time, maintaining an active sizzle. Turn and cook the fish, until barely opaque in the center (reducing the heat further, if necessary). A good rule of thumb for cooking fish is to cook it 10 minutes total per inch of thickness. If you like you may sear the first side, turn the fish over and then transfer the whole pan to a hot oven and finish cooking in the oven. When the fish is cooked the way you like, remove it from the pan and keep warm.

Black & Green Olive Sauce with Rosemary, Orange & Garlic

1/4 c. chopped Kalamata olives
1/4 c. chopped green Picholine olives
2 t. finely minced garlic
1 T. grated orange zest
1 T. minced fresh rosemary (see note)
2 T. fresh lemon juice
2 T. fresh orange juice
1/2 to 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 T. minced Italian flat leaf parsley (optional)

Combine all the ingredients and let sit at room temperature for up to an hour to allow the flavors to blend. Serve over grilled, pan-seared, poached or roasted fish. Refrigerate any unused portion. Serves 6 to 8.

Note: The original recipe calls for 2 T. rosemary. I didn't have that much on hand when I made the sauce this last time. I really liked the lesser should include the amount that you prefer.

(Recipe adapted from Kitchen Conversations by Joyce Goldstein)

Two olive sauce with halibut, broccoli and
couscous with toasted pine nuts, currants and spring onions..


Ann said...

Sounds lovely! Asparagus is so good this spring.

Paige said...

Thank you Ann! Yes. It has been a good year for asparagus...a little delayed, but the crop that is coming in is pretty nice.

Ann said...

Paige, I made the salad for dinner tonight since we had leftover salmon and fresh asparagus. The herb were fresh from my pots but I did use canned beans. It was delicious! Thanks for the recipe.

Paige said...

So glad you liked it!! Thanks for letting me know!