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The first time I made an asparagus salad, it was with walnuts and dates and pecorino cheese. My friend Jackie was over, and we were trying a new recipe.
And because Jackie’s always been a good sport about trying new things, including but not limited to kale chips, roasted broccoli, blackened salmon (which sadly, I have yet to post here because although it was perfection! I didn’t get any good pictures), sole amandine, cookies, cakes, even hummus scooped straight out of the container, slathered on wheat crackers from Trader Joe’s, it might not seem so significant to tell you she loved that salad. But we both did. Looking back, I have no idea what else we ate that day, but the asparagus salad? That I remember perfectly, especially how much I looked forward to eating it for the few days it lasted after.
Even remembering it now makes me want to run out for some dates and pecornio, so that’s why the next thing I have to say is so strange: despite how much we both loved that salad and despite its starring role in the meal we ate that day, the next time I made an asparagus salad wasn’t until almost a year later—last week, in fact, when I brought home that bunch of fresh asparagus from the farmers’ market.
A couple Octobers ago, surrounded by golden maple leaves and whistling breezes and the smell of bonfires in barely twilight, I was walking out to my car with a guy from my Travel Writing class. Inhaling deeply, smiling while I did, I kept telling him, in probably five different ways, how much I loved it all—the season’s smells, its temperatures, how the leaves revealed their true colors, hidden from us the rest of the year. He listened, pretty politely I think, and then, when I’d reached a stopping point, he started talking about spring.
I remember how his face changed, how his voice raised when he said green—all the different shades of green! the leaves and the grass and the trees! the newness of it all! I have to say, while I’ve always been an autumn girl: he got me thinking. And a few months later, when the spring he’d been waiting for arrived, I saw it with his eyes.
As far as vegetables go, asparagus is really something: tall, peaked in pretty tips, stalks cast in deep shades of green, with knobby dark-purple bumps along the sides shaped in tiny triangles. It has no fat or cholesterol, few calories, little sodium, as well as lots of potassium, folic acid, vitamins A & C and fiber. Plus, this time of year it’s just finishing up its two-month-long season, meaning it’s still pretty easy to find at your supermarket.
Of course, just because it’s available doesn’t mean it’s fresh—a lesson I learned all too well on Saturday when I pulled out the bunch I’d grabbed the night before and, gasping, extended my arm as far away as possible from my face, hoping to minimize the oh-my-gosh-what-is-it-that-smells-like-death odor assaulting me. A return trip to the store—complete with thorough examining of every remaining bunch of asparagus, conversations with the produce man and the manager, obtainment of two brand-new bunches hidden away in the back cooler— left me confident of three things: 1) Fresh asparagus should not, ever, ever, smell like dirty socks left in a hamper, 2) Nor should it, for any reason, have yellow slime building up between stalks and 3) There’s a reason I spend so much time at Dominick’s: those people are nice.
When you’re choosing asparagus at the store, don’t assume bunches are fresh just because they all look alike. Search for firm, bright green stalks with tightly closed tips, where the ends look freshly cut, not dried out. And, fun fact: the thickness of the stalks reveals how late in the season the vegetables have been harvested. Thicker stalks = beginning of season. Thinner stalks = later.
Now, if you love asparagus like I do, you’ll already know how good it is roasted in a white-hot oven, smothered in olive oil, when the skin blisters and absorbs all the oil’s fruity flavor. It’s also fantastic grilled over open flames or, boiled and chopped up into Saturday morning omelettes.
But can I make one more suggestion? If you have in your hands a fresh bunch of asparagus, you absolutely have to make this salad. Trust me on this.
Saturday, I wanted an omelette.
Thing is, I am scared of omelettes. But when I am scared of something, kitchen-wise, it’s usually a good idea to see what Julia Child has to say, and so it was that I turned to Mastering the Art of French Cooking, where detailed, illustrated instructions explain how to master this task, if by nothing else than practicing for days at a time.