Friday, June 14, 2024

An Asparagus Salad with Peas & Mint for Early Summer

I’m almost tired of asparagus for the year…but not quite. I’m still purchasing a bunch occasionally…and will continue to do so as long as it continues to look vibrant and delicious. I’m still making my favorite asparagus pastas. But in June I mostly love to tuck it into salads. Lightly blanched—or even raw (shaved)—it adds interest and herbal notes to the green salads of late spring and early summer. It is great with roasted beets…jammy eggs…potatoes...grains… peas….

I have mentioned before that in the early days of the pandemic I began preparing a monthly “curbside dinner.” It was so successful that I continue to do it as my schedule allows. The meal is made up of three courses…and comes bagged and ready to “finish” (toss the salad…warm things that need warming…etc). I usually try to come up with at theme that knits the courses together (April in Paris…An Irish Feast…). But most of the time the theme is simply a celebration of the foods of the moment. Asparagus usually makes an appearance in the April and May dinners.

This year my schedule didn’t allow for a May dinner. Instead, I offered it on June 1 (to cover May and June—June is generally even busier than May…). I decided I could give asparagus a last gasp appearance since it was still abundant and of good quality. I put it in the first course salad…along with some fresh peas (in season in June…or available in those great little bags at Trader Joes’) and seasonal lettuces (arugula and a mix of butter lettuces, baby romaine and baby spinach). I also added a good pinch of whole mint leaves—which is abundant and tender in the garden now (and will be for another month or so).

If you have never added whole herbs to a salad, you should give it a try. The softer herbs—flat leaf parsley, basil, dill, tarragon, chives, etc.—are wonderful when added in to salads. If they are large, tear them into smaller pieces…but the smaller leaves can be added whole. Use them as you would lettuce…but with a lighter hand.

The dressing for this salad is a bit more complex than those that I typically make for home use, but for the curbside I wanted something that would wake up all of the mild and sweet flavors in this salad. And this one does just that. It is totally worth the small amount of extra time involved.

Other than the vinaigrette, the main thing that will be a game changer for this salad, is being careful to cook the asparagus and peas in well-salted water. If the vegetables aren’t well salted, the salad will be bland.

A couple of days after the dinner, I made the salad for myself with some of the leftover ingredients and served it for my dinner with a little bit of leftover roast chicken. It was fantastic. In general, salads are a great way of serving the last bits of leftover roasts. The meat can be reheated…or simply served cold (or room temperature), if heating will dry it out.

On another evening I made this salad for myself with the addition of a few steamed new potatoes (dressed with vinegar while they were still warm as for this great French potato salad with peas).  This too was delicious.

Asparagus Salad with Peas, Mint, Goat Cheese & Sunflower Seeds

2 medium scallions, trimmed and sliced finely on a long bias (to make about an ounce)
1/2 c. (a scant 3 oz.) shelled fresh peas (see note)
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed (to get about 1/2 lb. trimmed weight)
4 small handfuls stemmed arugula (about 1 1/2 oz)
A handful of mint leaves (1/4 oz.), torn if large
2 big handfuls mixed lettuces of your choice (see note)—about 2 oz.
1/4 to 1/3 c. roasted and salted sunflower seeds
3 oz. goat cheese
6 T. Sherry-Dijon Vinaigrette

Place the scallions in a bowl of ice water and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain well and blot dry with paper towels.

Fill a sauce pan with water, salt well, and bring to a boil. Add the peas and cook for one minute. Lift out using a bowl sieve and spread on towels to cool. Slice the trimmed asparagus in 1/4-inch thick slices on a long bias.

Return the water the peas were cooked in to a boil and add the asparagus. Cook until crisp tender—taste one after 2 minutes. Lift out and spread on towels to cool.

Place the peas, asparagus, scallions, arugula, mint and lettuces in a large bowl. Season with salt & pepper. Drizzle a small amount of the vinaigrette over (1 to 2 T.) and toss until all the ingredients are lightly coated, adding more vinaigrette if necessary. Mound on a platter or four individual plates. Scatter the sunflower seeds over. Then crumble the goat cheese over all. Drizzle the salad(s) with more vinaigrette.

Sherry-Dijon Vinaigrette:
3 T. Sherry vinegar
4 t. honey (1 oz.)
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 T. fresh lemon juice
3/4 t. Kosher salt
1 t. fennel spice, toasted & finely ground (see notes)
2/3 c. olive oil

Place all of the ingredients except the olive oil in a small bowl and whisk until smooth and the salt has completely dissolved. In a thin stream, add the oil while whisking constantly to form an emulsion. Taste and correct the seasoning. Makes about 1 cup of vinaigrette. Store in a jar in the fridge (allow to come to room temperature…and shake vigorously to re-emulsify—before using).

  • You may use frozen peas if fresh are not available. There is no need to cook frozen peas. Just thaw and use.
  • I like a young, soft mix of lettuces for this salad—baby lettuces of all kinds…but especially Bibb/Boston.
  • To toast fennel spice, place in a dry sauté pan over moderately high heat. Shake the pan occasionally. When the fennel is fragrant…and beginning to take on a pale golden color in spots, transfer to a plate to cool. Grind by bashing in a mortar & pestle…or using a spice grinder.
  • To make a more substantial salad…appropriate for an entrée, serve as a side for chicken, fish or lamb. You could also serve it as an entrée without meat…just add a few new potatoes (Steam or boil; halve, quarter or slice while warm and dress with a teaspoon of vinegar for every half pound of potatoes. Season with salt and cool before adding to the salad.)