Nosh: Salad with Grilled Asparagus, Potatoes, and Lemon-Caper Vinaigrette

I love summertime salads. Great big salads, accented with all sorts of lovely, yummy, seasonal things.

Though I confess, as I sit here eating leftover salad for breakfast, that maybe I am a tad overly fond of the greens. Eh. There are worse things I could do.

So I wanted a salad, and I had a hankering for lemon-caper something. But, I also wanted asparagus and potatoes, because I like to eat those things and I am a simple creature bent on satisfying my wants. Here’s how it all went down.

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1/4 teaspoon of herbes de Provence or tarragon
  • 1.5-2 pounds Yukon Gold (OR red OR new) potatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary (crushed)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh chives, chopped

For the dressing

  • 2 Tablespoons capers
  • 1 Tablespoon shallot (or mild onion), minced
  • Juice and zest from one lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1/4-1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar (OR white wine vinegar OR champagne vinegar)
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 (ish) cup olive oil

Salad, prepared however you prefer

A few rounds of thick pita bread, for serving

The hardest ingredient to work with in this recipe is the potatoes because they have to be boiled first. I chose Yukon Golds for this because…well, because I like how they taste, and because I think their waxy texture holds up better to  a double-cooking process than floury russet potatoes. Take smallish whole potatoes, or cut them so they are halved and roughly the same size (but do not slice or dice yet). You can peel them if you’d like. I didn’t bother. Boil them until they are fork-tender. They can be a little underdone when you decide to drain them, as they’re going to cook further on the grill. But they should be at the very least, nearly done. Set aside to cool.

While the potatoes are boiling, prep the asparagus. Snap off the woody ends (no knife required! Just bend a stalk and it will naturally break at the spot where tender stalk meets tougher bottom) and put in a mixing bowl. Toss with oil, salt, pepper, and the seasoning of your choice. I like herbes de Provence, with its mix of herbs and fragrant hint of lavender.

Springtime veggies make me so happy.

Springtime veggies make me so happy.

Set these aside, and make your dressing.

Get a big container–a nice big soup bowl with a lid, or a Ball jar that you can close and shake. Spoon capers into a strainer and rinse. Assemble ingredients.

Fact: I haven't purchased salad dressing for my home in years.

Fact: I haven’t purchased salad dressing for my home in years.

Remember to zest your lemon before you juice it. And the capers are going to get minced, too. Chop everything that needs to be chopped (including parsley, strangely absent from this picture), and dump it all in the mixing container. Add in honey, thyme, mustard, and lemon juice. Add the white balsamic vinegar into the mix. If you want a thicker dressing, add less vinegar. If you’d like it thinner, add a little more. Black pepper goes in now, too, and I use kind of a lot of it in here; using my pepper mill, I probably added ten turns of the grinder. Add according to your taste. But be careful with salt! Even though you’ve rinsed the capers they’ve been pickled in brine and can still be salty. Taste your dressing first before you add any extra salt, and do that at the end, after everything else has been mixed in.

Whisk in oil until it’s fully incorporated. I generally like to have an almost even proportion of oil to vinegar, so if you’ve got a half-cup of vinegar, look to add roughly that much oil. Taste, and adjust. Does it need salt? More pepper? A dash more honey or another hit of mustard? This dressing should be savory and lemony and a little bit sweet, with a refreshing, green bite from the capers. When you’re satisfied, set it aside.

Heat your grill/grill pan. I used the double-griller that stretches across two burners on my stove but of course, this can also go outside. Get it ready to go at a medium/medium-high heat.

Take cooled potatoes and slice them into half-inch (or thicker) slices. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary.

It was hard for me to not eat these as-is. But hold on! They get even better.

It was hard for me to not eat these as-is. But hold on! They get even better.

When the grill is hot, put the asparagus and potatoes on the burners, then let ’em go. The asparagus will cook much more quickly than the potatoes so don’t wander too far off while they’re cooking. Also, I had to cook in batches for purposes of space. That’s the beauty of salads. If the food gets a little cool…so what?

While the potatoes and asparagus are grilling, make your salad. I had feta cheese so we made sort-of a Greek salad, but really. Make whatever kind of salad you’d like. 

Turn the asparagus at least once to ensure even cooking, and if the stalks are thin they should be done in five minutes.  Put on a serving platter and drizzle with some lemon-caper vinaigrette.

Yeah. It was as good as it looks.

Yeah. It was as good as it looks.

The potatoes will take a little longer–flip them when you take the asparagus off the grill. They get all texturally fun, though, as the inside stays soft and potato-y while the outside crisps up from the grill. When they’re done, toss with chives et voila! In a serving bowl.

Does it get better than this?

Does it get better than this?

Grill the pita bread.

Really. You’ll thank me for it. You’ll only need like two minutes per side and the flavor gets beautifully deep and surprising. I mean, it’s pita, right? But oh, what an effect the grill has on it.

Yum. YUM.

Yum. YUM.

Cut the pita into quarters when it’s done.

Gather everything together and bring it out onto your fantastic, aesthetically pleasing back porch, which you have just freed from all its winter grime.

Feast.

Feast.

This? Is the way to eat a summertime salad. But if you don’t have the back porch, don’t let that stop you! This would taste great if you were seated at a little kitchen table with a single candle burning in the middle for a soft glow, or spread out on a blanket on the floor of your living room while the rain fell outside. 

Ha! Now I need to remember to make this again for an indoor picnic. 

Whatever, so long as I get to eat it again.

I hope you enjoy! 

Advertisements

Lemony Asparagus Soup

Ahh, the spring growing season is upon us, and I have already feasted on several forms of asparagus.  Roasted.  Grilled.  Grilled again.  And so on.  When I was a kid I discovered that I really liked fresh asparagus, which was unusual because I was the insanely picky child.  The next time we had asparagus, my mother pulled the worst bait-and-switch in history and served canned instead of fresh, and it was grossly inferior, with the accent on gross.  I cried.  And I didn’t touch asparagus again until I was an adult.

Sorry, Mom.  But it’s true.

Childhood trauma notwithstanding, I have come to love the mighty asparagus spear.  Using the entirety of my food and creating as little waste as possible gives me a sense of virtue that I don’t often have in my daily life.  When we can combine the two?  Bliss.  Eating asparagus involves inherent waste because there’s that tough, woody end that you have to cut off, which gives me a sad.  But never fear!  Put those babies in the freezer until you’re ready to make stock, and then?

IMG_0033

OK, five bags is a little excessive, but still…

Homemade asparagus stock leads to homemade asparagus soup.  Yes!

Making asparagus stock is super-super simple.  Gather up your asparagus butts and put them in a stock pot.  Toss whatever else you want in there; I used an onion, a celery stalk, two carrots, five cloves of garlic, six or eight bay leaves and maybe two teaspoons of black pepper.  Do you want to throw in some parsley?  Go ahead.  Mushrooms?  Sure!  Another celery?  Go for it.  Do bear in mind that asparagus is a more delicate flavor and can be overwhelmed, so you might not want to put in a whole head of garlic…or maybe you do, so go for it!  The only thing I held back on was the salt.  I didn’t put much in at this stage of the stock-making, maybe only a teaspoon or two.  I wanted to be able to toss some in at the end to bring out the flavor once the stock had come together.  Anyway.

How much more simple could it get?  You don't even have to peel stuff.

How much more simple could it get? You don’t even have to peel stuff.

So you use twice as much “per height” water as there are veggies in your pot.  Meaning, if you have three inches of stock vegetables loaded into the bottom of your stock pot, then you would put in about six inches of water.  Did it make a ton of stock?  Yes.  Did I care?  Not even a little.

Bring your stock veggies to a boil, and let it rip for about five minutes.

Rocking out.

Rocking out.

And then turn it down to a simmer and let it cook for an hour.  That’s it!  Once it’s cooked you can taste the broth and adjust it for seasonings, then strain it into another large pot, through a mesh colander lined with cheesecloth.  You should have a beautiful, clear brown stock that looks something like this:

My house smelled really cozy that day.

My house smelled really comforting that day.

So, you could leave this alone, let it cool, divide it up into usable portions and put it in your freezer for future use.  Or, you can let your stock start working for you and use it towards that night’s dinner.

Or both, which had been my intention all along.

Assemble ingredients for soup.  I used:

  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • 1 lemon
  • 1-2 tablespoons of your herb(s) of choice; I used marjoram and some sage here, but it easily could have been thyme or oregano or fennel
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • Asparagus stock
  • Salt & pepper to taste
This won't take long to come together.

This won’t take long to come together.

FYI, I wanted some kind of starch to go in the soup  so I made orzo.  This soup would also be nice with diced boiled potatoes or sweet potatoes or maybe brown rice.  If you’re going to make something like that to go with your soup, now is a good time to start thinking about when you need to get that water started.

Get some oil heating in another large pot, then start by sauteing the onions for a minute or two.  Then add in the celery and carrots and let them cook together for three or five minutes; let everything start to get soft and mingley.  Add the garlic and let that saute for another minute, then zest your lemon right into the pot.  Cut the lemon into wedges and reserve as a garnish for your dinner.

So far, so good, right?

So far, so good, right?

Once that’s done add your bay leaves and herbs, and some salt and pepper (but go easy on the S&P so you can tinker with it some more at the end).  Let these all saute together another couple of minutes, until the veggies are starting to brown onto the bottom of the pot and everything smells summery and fragrant.  Add your asparagus stock.  I used about eight cups, but you can use more or less depending on how chunky you want your soup.  Actually, here’s what I did.  I put six cups in with the veggies for soup, then I measured out various sizes of asparagus stock to freeze for future soups and risottos (labeling what it is, how much is there and when it was made, of course).

We shall meet again.

We shall meet again.

Then whatever broth was left?  Also went in the soup.  There’s only so much measuring I can do before I start to make myself nuts.

Let that come to a boil for a few minutes, then reduce it to a simmer.  Chop the asparagus into bite size-ish chunks and cook it lightly.  I have a grill pan so I used that, but if you don’t then just saute it for a few minutes and all will be well.

Asparagus, orzo and soup, all happily doing their cooking thing.

Asparagus, orzo and soup, all happily doing their cooking thing.

When the orzo is ready, drain it and put it in a serving bowl.  When the asparagus are grilled or sauteed, put them in a serving bowl.  This soup doesn’t take long at all to cook so by the time orzo and grilled asparagus are ready the soup should be too, so just taste it again and add more salt or pepper as you see fit.  BUT!  Don’t add the asparagus or the orzo directly into the pot of soup.

Why, you ask?

I’m here to tell you.   The asparagus will get soggy and unappetizing and the orzo will continue to soak in soup and will swell to a gooey and unpalatable mass.  This is a soup that is greater than the sum of its parts, so long as those parts are maintained separately until they’re ready to be eaten.  And then?  All bets are off.

You’ve already got those lemon wedges waiting to be used, and I have certainly never complained about tossing a little parmesan cheese into my soup.  Chop a little fresh mint as a bonus garnish, and drizzle with olive oil.

It's like a bowl full of summer.

It’s like a bowl full of summer.

And if you’ve got a swanky back porch to eat it on, even better.

*Bliss*

*Swoon*

Happy cooking, everyone!  See you ’round the farmer’s market!

No more posts.