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! 

Nosh: Green and Black Olive Tapenade with Fennel

You know when you start getting those party invitations, and they say something like, “Bring finger food!  A small dish to share!  Some nibbles!”?  And you know that chips will be in abundance and someone will surely already have hummus and it’s not like you can bring soup and you may have to work your way past at least one–maybe two–variations of a 7-layer dip?  Dilemma.  And party season is fast approaching.

In the interests of full disclosure, I confess that I’m ready to fall to my knees and thank God/the universe/the deities of all trendy foods that we’re witnessing the slow, groaning, agonizingly prolonged end of that spinach dip/bread bowl combo.  Enough, people.  I’m like, “Oh, you’re going to be at X party, and you’re bringing spinach dip?  Sorry I’ll miss it; I’ve got to stay in that night and count my armpit hairs.” This is not “just saying”.  This is unrepentant, detached honesty.  And I digress.

What to bring?  Relax, people, Imma help.  Make tapenade!  It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s no-cook, it just requires a food processor or blender (the processor is slightly better in this instance since it won’t require as much “open the top and push it back down onto the blades”, and blender users, you know what I’m talking about, but if you don’t have said processor then blend away!).  You can add whatever seasonings you’d like, though I reallllllllly recommend using ground fennel.  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 cup pitted (as in, pits are removed for you.  It’s not hard to pit olives but nevertheless, why not make it easier on yourself?) olives.  I used both green and black olives, but you can use whatever kind you’d like.
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained and rinsed
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel
  • 1/4 cup (or, if you measure like me, 1 smallish handful) fresh parsley
  • 2 or 3 cloves garlic
  • a shake or two of crushed red pepper flakes, if you’re so inclined
  • ground black pepper, to taste

The hardest part of the tapenade (provided you bought olives sans pits) will be grinding your fennel seed.

Have at it.

Have at it.

Just put your fennel in your handy-dandy mortar and pestle and tear into it and 45(ish) seconds later, you’ve got beautiful freshly ground fennel seed.  Prepare to be knocked over by the fragrance that wafts up at you; who knew dried seeds could smell so good?  Or you could put it in a spice grinder.  Or buy ground fennel.  Whatever works.

Oh!  And remember, when dealing with lemons, zest first, then juice.  Trying to do it the other way around = not so much.

So.

That’s about it for specialty instructions.  You could chop your garlic slightly, or maybe coarsely chop your parsley; I think I waved the knife menacingly at my garlic but really, it’s going into a thing with giant whirly blades and I am perfectly happy to let it do the work for me.  Take all your ingredients and put them in your food processor.

Everybody in the pool!

Everybody in the pool!

And whirr until everything is nicely ground together.  You don’t want a smooth paste; you still want to see slightly chunky bits of olives and garlic and parsley.  Put the tapenade in a serving bowl and drizzle with a little bit of extra-virgin olive oil to really round out the rich, warm, olive-y taste.

Yum!

Yum!

A few things…

1. Notice I didn’t mention adding salt.  Olives and capers are salty enough, I think, and I generally never (ever) add salt to tapenade.  If you must, then wait until the very end, after everything is blended, to see how much or how little you’ll think is necessary.

2.  Give capers a chance.  I know that a lot of people in the US aren’t familiar with capers–they’re brined! they look like mutant peas!–but these little flavor bombs of salty-vinegary tang are totally worth a shot.

3.  I continue to run across people who can’t eat garlic because they’re allergic.  My heart goes out to them.  If you can’t eat said garlic, then remove it from this recipe, that’s fine.  Toss in extra capers.  Or!  Try something different.  You could add in shallots.  If you don’t want to keep it vegetarian, then I bet some crisped pancetta would be a welcome addition.  Or add a strip of orange rind (which I would probably slightly chop before whirring, since that can be tough to get through) for a citrus tapenade.

4.  Mmmm, orange rind.

5.  Once it’s ready, grab a sleeve of crackers or some sliced bread, and go.  Have fun!  Avoid the spinach dip.

I love tapenade, even though I sort of have a love/hate relationship with olives.  I do enjoy them, but I find myself easily overwhelmed by them.  I made this for a friend the other night who also loves/hates olives but digs a good tapenade.  He said, “What’s great about this version is there’s enough other stuff going on that I don’t feel like I’m just eating olives.  I keep getting distracted by the other flavors, but then I get the taste of these really great olives.  It’s fun.”

*joy*

*joy*

And friends, that is what I call a kitchen win.

We served this with butternut squash pasta, roasted kohlrabi, roasted cauliflower (coming soon) and a green salad.

Enjoy!

No more posts.