Saturday, May 26, 2018

Asparagus with Ham & Pine Nuts…served two ways

Spring means asparagus.  Every year, I start enjoying it when the California crop begins to hit the stores in March.  It is always good, but when the local crop starts to come in I am always reminded of why I like to eat not just seasonally, but locally whenever I can.  The flavor and texture of the local crop can’t be matched.  I bring home bunches and bunches of it from the farmers’ market…stopping only when the crop does…usually sometime in early June.

One of my favorite things to eat with asparagus is ham.  Its salty, fatty—sometimes smoky—taste compliments the herbaceous and mineral-y asparagus perfectly.  We enjoy it on pizza, in pasta, with eggs (in a frittata/tortilla or quiche)…and in salads and sides.  It is a wonderfully versatile combo. 

Historically, this duo is a natural, seasonal pairing as well.  Hogs would have been butchered in the fall…and hams hung to cure.  They would have been ready to eat in the spring.  I can only imagine how delicious those first slices of the new ham would have tasted when eaten with the first few asparagus spears of the season. 

The simple, streamlined dish I’m sharing today is a great way to enjoy this springtime combination.   You can enjoy it as a side dish…or add a little arugula (also in season right now) and you have a salad.  If you don’t want to take the time to make the lemon-shallot vinaigrette, you can simply dress everything with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil.  Either way, this is springtime eating at its best.

Asparagus with Ham & Pine Nuts

1 to 1 1/2 lb. medium to large spears of asparagus, trimmed
1 T. olive oil
1/3 lb./150 g. diced (1/3-inch) ham
1/3 c. pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 T. minced Italian flat-leaf parsley
2 to 3 T. lemon-shallot vinaigrette
2 to 3 oz. arugula, trimmed, washed and spun dry (optional)
Salt & Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Leave the asparagus spears whole or cut into 2-inch lengths on a short diagonal—as you prefer.  Bring a pan of well-salted water to the boil.  Drop in the asparagus and cook until just tender—about 3 to 5 minutes.  Drain and spread on towels.  (If you are cooking the asparagus ahead, rinse under cool running water before spreading on towels to dry.)  Reserve the pan.

Warm the olive oil in a small sauté pan set over moderate to moderately high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the ham.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the ham is sizzling, hot through, and golden brown in spots—about 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the pine nuts and parsley. 

If the asparagus spears were left whole, return them to the pan they were cooked in and drizzle with some of the vinaigrette, gently rolling the spears around to coat them.  If you would like the asparagus to be warm, do this while the pan is over a medium flame.  Season with salt & pepper.  Place the spears of asparagus on a platter or individual plates.  Spoon the ham and pine nut mixture over the asparagus.  If you like, you may arrange the asparagus and ham on a bed of arugula that has been seasoned with salt & pepper and dressed with the lemon-shallot vinaigrette.

If the asparagus spears were cut into short lengths, place the asparagus in a bowl with the arugula and the ham and pine nut mixture (let the mixture cool slightly or it will wilt the arugula).  Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with the vinaigrette.  Toss until all the components are coated with a light film of the vinaigrette and the ingredients are evenly distributed.  Pile on a platter or individual plates and serve. 

Serves 4 to 6.

Lemon-Shallot Vinaigrette: Place a tablespoon of finely diced shallot in a small bowl with 3 T. lemon juice and 1/2 t. salt.  Let sit 5 minutes.  Whisk in 5 T. olive oil.  Taste for balance and seasoning.  (Vinaigrette from Sunday Suppers at Lucques—Seasonal Recipes from Market to Table, by Suzanne Goin)

  • If the asparagus is very fat, take the time to peel the lower 2/3 of each stalk. 
  • Any ham of good quality may be used. I like Niman Ranch’s Apple wood Smoked Ham. Black forest ham would be good too. This recipe also makes an excellent use for the “heel” of a prosciutto. 
  • You may make the vinaigrette, or simply dress everything with a squeeze of lemon and drizzle of olive oil. 
 Printable Version

Variation using julienne Prosciutto and shaved Parmesan

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