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April 13, 2008 / Tony

Asparagus Salad with Sweet Balsamic Dressing

This salad is study in contrasts: Sweet and salty, crunchy and tender.  Here’s how you make it

Asparagus Salad with Sweet Balsamic Dressing, based on this recipe from Epicurious

2 lb asparagus, woody ends trimmed and cut into thirds

1/3 cup good quality balsamic vinegar

1 T Dijon mustard

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp minced garlic

3 T extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Coarse sea salt, for sprinkling

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil.  Separate the asparagus tips from the rest of the asparagus.  Place all of the asparagus, except the tips, into the boiling water.  Cook for one minute and then add the asparagus tips.  Cook for an additional 2 minutes.  Drain and immediately place in a ice water bath.   Remove the asparagus once it is completely cool.  Drain and then place on some paper towels to dry off any excess water. 

Meanwhile, bring the balsamic vinegar to a simmer and gently reduce by half.  Remove from the heat and place into a small bowl.  Whisk in the Dijon mustard, basil, and garlic.  Add the olive oil, a tablespoon at a time, whisking each tablespoon until completely incorporated.  Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Do not add any salt!

Assemble the salad by gently tossing the asparagus, dressing, and walnuts in a bowl.  Place the salad on plates and sprinkle with the coarse sea salt.  Serve immediately. 

Here’s what it should look like:

The salad should be sweet from the balsamic vinegar reduction but salty from the salted water in which you cooked the asparagus and the addition of the coarse sea salt on top.  The garlic adds a nice little bite and the sea salt and the walnuts add a nice crunch (a very nice contrast to the tender asparagus).  It’s very pretty and sharp little spring salad.

A few notes about the recipe:  1)  Do not skip the two-tiered cooking process of the asparagus.  Use the fact that this salad uses asparagus pieces to your advantage.  Asparagus tips cook faster than the rest of the stalk so any time you can cook them at a different rate, you should do it.  By cooking them for 1/3 less time than the rest of the asparagus, you should end up with perfectly tender (and al dente, if you will) asparagus tips and stems.  2)  Correctly season the water in which you cook the asparagus.  Taste the water after you add the salt, it should taste salty; like the sea, if you’ve had that pleasure.  3)  The coarse sea salt isn’t absolutely necessary to this dish-you could use kosher salt instead-but I find it added such a nice crunch and concentrated saltiness that I really wouldn’t do it any other way.  It finished the dish perfectly by adding both a texture and flavor contrast.  I used this salt from Penzey’s



One Comment

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  1. jessie / Apr 17 2008 11:31 am

    I love asparagus! This recipe looks AWESOME…will have to try it out!

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