Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bonjour Le Printemps!

We are right after a long weekend which lasted, for some of us, for nine days. The weather was great, the heat was extreme – over 30 degrees – hard to imagine that it had been snowing a month ago. Polish asparagus appeared on local food markets. Sellers of fresh herbs came back from their winter holidays so I can enjoy those from Poland and not from Israel. Spanish strawberries are cheaper and cheaper. Polish strawberries appeared this week but they are outrageously expensive. The conclusion is: Spring is here!
Springs means of course more vegetables and salads. Today’s salad is simple, but great if you have fresh and good ingredients. It is the quintessence of the asparagus season. In Poland, asparagus are more particularly planted in the west of the country – Wielkopolska – close to Germany. More than the half of the Polish production is exported to our German bothers. That is why more than 90 per cent of the Polish asparagus production focuses on white asparagus (Germans prefer white ones). And which ones do you prefer? The green ones or the white ones?
The first time I had this salad it was a year ago at my father’s, at the end of the asparagus season. He served them in a nicer way than me today, and if you want to impress your guests you should present them like my Dad does. Just place the pieces of asparagus on a round plate in such a way they create a rosette shape. The salad is really extraordinary in taste; it has a lot of minced garlic and a lot of fresh oregano leaves as well. All this bathing in quite a big amount of olive oil – but do not worry, asparagus are very low in calories, and if you do not add any fat you will be hungry after 10 minutes! You can serve them warm or cold and they taste even better with a slice of grilled or toasted crispy bread. I did not have any pine nuts like in the original recipe but I replaced them with grilled almond flakes, which go well, too. I will use pine nuts next time, although they became as expensive as gold. The second alteration to the recipe that I did today was to bake the asparagus in the oven.  Since I discovered the difference between cooked and grilled (or baked) asparagus I never came back to the method of cooking them in water. Grilling, baking or even sautéing helps to concentrate the taste of this extraordinary vegetable. Boiling them will weaken their taste a bit, and will further fade the vivid color of the green ones. In order not to dry the asparagus out in the oven, rub them with quite a lot of olive oil (including their tips). The only ingredient you cannot omit is fresh oregano. This is what makes this salad different and so tasty.

White and Green Asparagus Salad with fresh Oregano Dressing

Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a regular lunch meal

1 bunch white asparagus (around 500 g)
1 bunch green asparagus (around 500 g)
4 big garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 handful fresh oregano leaves
Few tablespoons good quality olive oil (around 50 ml)
Quite a lot of freshly milled black pepper (around 1 flat tea spoon)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 handful sliced almonds or pine nuts

1. Wash asparagus and oregano. Dry them.
2. In a hot frying pan grill sliced almond or pine nuts for 1 to 2 minutes. Be careful not to burn them. Put them aside to cool down completely.
3. Prepare the asparagus: break them or cut off the wooden, dry parts of them and discard them. Peel white asparagus with a peeler and if necessary, peel delicately the thicker part of green asparagus stems (sometimes those thick green asparagus have a quite hard stem which does not cook very well). Try to choose white asparagus of the same thickness as the green ones, otherwise the cooking time will vary the two.
4. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place asparagus in a baking dish, pour some olive oil in the dish and rub them with it (do not forget to rub the tips as well, so they do not dry out). Put into the oven and bake until soft or al dente (I prefer this last option). Occasionally check them and mix them so they grill / bake evenly.
5. Prepare your dressing: in a mortar or in a bowl, mix olive oil with half of oregano leaves and mash it slightly. This will help to extract the flavor of the herb. Add garlic, white vinegar, salt, and quite a lot of freshly milled black pepper. Taste if it is spicy and sour enough. In the meantime, grill or toast you favorite bread.
6. Remove the asparagus from the oven. Cut them into shorter pieces and place those on a plate (if you have more time than me today, you can create the rosette as indicated above in this post). Pour your dressing over; add sliced almond or pine nuts and the remaining leaves of oregano. Eat and enjoy.

Bon appétit!
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