Asparagus Fennel and Spring Onion Salad
Is it just me or does everybody just love asparagus? I am trying to think of anyone I know that doesn’t like it but I can’t. Most of my friends actually get a little excited at the mere mention of it. It seems that it has been this way over the ages where it appears to have enjoyed a rich and fascinating history. Images of it as offerings have even been observed on ancient Egyptian frieze. Did you also know that Roman Emperors (long known documented asparagus enthusiasts) kept stashes of asparagus frozen in the Alps for later use? This is not at all astonishing given the adoration reserved for everyone’s favorite vegetable. Taking into consideration that it only was available in the spring, it is not surprising that people have gone to so much trouble to ‘stretch out’ the season for as long as possible. Now thanks to modern agriculture it is now possible to get it all year round. Off season it isn’t always as good (or cheap) as it is now that spring has sprung. In addition to the recent arrival of spring, asparagus fanciers will also be happy to hear that asparagus turns out to be very good for you. I was surprised to learn about all the health benefits of asparagus, which I caught up on here. Regardless of why you eat it or whether you boil, steam, grill, roast, or stir-fry it, now is the time to enjoy it.
All that being said I only have one problem with asparagus…I hate it. Nobody seems to understand how this could be possible, but I really don’t like it. It probably goes back to my childhood when I was forced to eat over-boiled asparagus that no amount of cheese sauce or mayonnaise could disguise. As I have gotten older I have learned to enjoy it, fake it, or sometimes just manage to choke it down. What makes it work for me is keeping it crunchy. I like it grilled or quickly roasted in a hot oven. I also like it stir fried. Boiling and steaming unfortunately come dangerously close to painful childhood flash backs. It is those times all I can do is pray for sauce (and lots of it). It sort of defeats the purpose of eating vegetables doesn’t it?
About a year ago I saw a recipe on chow.com for a raw shaved asparagus salad and my interest was piqued. The color was beautiful and it had two of my other favorite ingredients: lemon and parmesan cheese. I tried it and I loved it but somehow forgot about it…so little time, so many salads! I saw it again on Facebook recently and remembered how much I liked it so I made a mental ‘post it’ note to try it again. I was drawn to the simplicity of this dish. I admire dishes that have a minimum of ingredients. The crisp refreshing nature of this salad makes it the consummate spring salad and the recipe was perfect the way it was. However, on my last trip to the farmers market, in addition to the beautiful asparagus, I found some very nice fennel and spring onions that caused a little light to go on. I came up with this Asparagus Fennel and Spring Onion Salad. I am happy to report that I liked it better than the original that I had tried last year. The salad couldn’t be easier either. If you want to make it ahead, you can prepare the dressing ingredients and keep everything in the refrigerator for a few hours to toss together at the last minute. I strongly recommend that you break out the good olive oil on this one. It is also good the next day. Enjoy and Happy Spring!
- ½-3/4 lb. asparagus spears, woody ends (if any) removed
- 1 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- 2-3 spring onions, thinly sliced
- ⅓ cup pine nuts, toasted
- 2 teaspoons of champagne vinegar
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup shaved Parmesan cheese (1-2 ounces)
- 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley.
- Trim the woody ends of the asparagus (if necessary) and cut into ribbons using a potato peeler. Discard the top of the fennel bulb (reserving some of the top for a garnish if desired) and slice thinly. Slice the spring onion. Add all the vegetables to a large bowl. Toast the pine nuts in a small pan until brown*. Set aside. Sprinkle the lemon, vinegar and olive oil over the vegetables and toss really well. Salt and pepper to taste. Adjust seasoning as needed, adding more oil or lemon if necessary. Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes. Add the pine nuts and most of the cheese, reserving a little for garnish, and toss. Plate the salad onto individual plates, garnishing the top with the reserved cheese and a pinch of parsley (or reserved fennel tops). It is now ready to serve.
- *Tip Pine nuts contain a lot of oil which can make them burn easily so stir constantly and remove from heat immediately. These little gems are also expensive so keep unused pine nuts in the freezer to keep them fresh.