Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Roasted Asparagus and a Summer Salad

So, I got a little bit distracted last week. Our CSA began. Jersey strawberries made their first appearance of the summer. And instead of making anything I could really share with you - anything resembling a recipe - I've been knee-deep in greens. And salads. Arugula, strawberries, toasted walnuts, and goat cheese...if this isn't music to your ears, I suggest you don't come over in the next few weeks. It might be all I serve you. Well, except for this pretty asparagus you see above.
Doug and I were in western Massachusetts this weekend, and on the way home I stopped at a farm stand to feed the addiction. Next to the strawberries were some good-looking bunches of asparagus, and since I can't turn down asparagus from Hadley, Mass - where they call it Hadley Grass and even make it into ice cream - it shared top billing with the strawberries on our dinner table tonight. I hope I haven't missed the season in your neck of the woods, because this  dish elevates asparagus to a whole new level.
Here's what you should do: roast some asparagus in olive oil and salt, which will result in perfectly tender stalks crisped nicely at the tips. While the asparagus is roasting, make a simple puree of blanched walnuts and sauteed red onion. Consider making extra, because this sauce is rich and buttery and damn good. It turns simple roasted vegetables into a sophisticated meal. When the puree is made and the asparagus properly blistered, toss them together with some shaved pecorino - it adds extra creaminess. Finish the dish with just enough lemon to provide a sharp, fresh contrast to the nutty flavor of the walnuts.

This recipe has been around the block some, but if you missed it, I suggest you remedy that immediately. We tossed the whole mess over some penne and practically inhaled it. It was all I could do to remind myself to save room for that special summer salad. And, we had some walnut crema left over which I have a hunch would be pretty fantastic over some roasted broccoli (like this recipe I've had my eye on).

Roasted Asparagus with Walnut Crema
Adapted from Orangette
(Serves 2, with some extra sauce on the side)
I found my walnut sauce to be fairly thick and grainy. I'm guessing more oil and/or more water would help thin it out, but we enjoyed it plenty the way it is.

  • 3/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Half of a red onion, diced
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice (or several lemon wedges)
  • Shaved pecorino, to taste

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add the walnuts and blanch for ten minutes. Drain the walnuts, reserving 1/8 cup of cooking water. Saute the onion in a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat until golden brown and soft, about 7 minutes. In a food processor, combine the walnuts, onion, and reserved cooking water. Add a generous pinch of salt and process until blended together. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a steady stream, processing until creamy. Taste again, and salt as needed.

Preheat the oven to 500. (We had good luck with our toaster oven, too - turn it to 450 and double the cooking time. It's a good way to avoid turning the oven on in the summer months.) Snap the tough ends from the asparagus - this is easily accomplished by bending the spears and letting them snap where they will - and put the prepared spears on a baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast for about 8 minutes, until slightly charred and tender.

Spoon the crema onto the asparagus (and pasta, if you desire) and pour the lemon juice over the top. Season with salt and pepper and a generous shaving of pecorino.

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