Do not adjust your computer screen. Friends, it’s time. For me to come clean, keep things on the up and up, give it to you on the realz, yo. The truth is, I don’t just eat cake. I also eat salad. Lots of salad, actually. And in celebration of this revelatory proclamation, I thought I’d do something completely off the wall and offer you something that you can actually make for dinner tonight. Asparagus Caesar Salad. It’s a very real thing in my life.
So last weekend I had the awesome opportunity to not only hang out with a group of the most fantastic food bloggers ever, riding a party bus of astounding Food Nerdery, but said bus took us down to meet the good folks at Driscoll’s berry farm and how they do what they do. And then, after a magnificent breakfast, they shipped us off to Pebble Beach for the rest of the day to live like the 1 percent and enjoy the day at the Pebble Beach Food and Wine Festival. Major stuff, major food, major daytime booze buzz. And I’ll tell you all about it here sometime soon in full, I promise.
But there was one dish I tasted that really kind of blew my mind. (Like, more so than when I went all fangirl on Johnny Iuzzini and his Sexy Pastry Man pout after tasting his divine strawberry-rhubarb dessert. But that is neither here nor there.) It was a superb Springtime riff on a Caesar salad, with raw asparagus instead of the proverbial Romaine. I died a little tasting this flavor-packed salad. Inspired, I soon made my own version at home. Guys, you need to get on this train on the regular. This stuff is so, so good, and so perfect right now.
We eat a lot of asparagus around here, usually just tossing the spears with olive oil, salt, and pepper and then roasting at about 450° for just a few minutes. It’s awesome, just like that. We don’t do a lot of raw asparagus. But the times, they are a-changin.
(Before I continue, in the spirit of self-disclosure and all, let me tell you how I work Parmesan–I grate it with the large holes on a box grater, and then give it a rough chop with a big knife. It’s my favorite texture of Parm–not to fine, not too clunky. Now you know.)
After you wash and chop your bunch of asparagus into bits, the dressing comes to together in a psychotically umami-filled snap. Grate some fresh lemon zest and a garlic clove into a little fragrant pile, add a bit of coarse salt and then use your knife to alternately chop and schmear the whole thing into a paste of sorts.
Put this magic paste into a bowl with a dab of anchovy paste. Now, HANG ON. Don’t freak out. I don’t really love whole anchovies either. They kinda skeeve me out. But anchovy paste? In the right amount in the right dish? I know it’s not cute to look at. But this stuff is the JAM. Trust.
All that’s left to do is add olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and a dash of Worcestershire if you’re a Worcestershire-in-Caesar-dressing kind of person (which I totally am). Whisk until the dressing comes together. Get that dressing all loving up on the asparagus. Cover, let hang out in the fridge for at least and hour (more time is even better), and get ready for the ultimate Springtime taste experience. See, not-cake can be really terrific sometimes, right?!
Asparagus Caesar Salad
Serves 2-3 as a side dish
When prepping the asparagus, I first trim off the tips to keep them pretty and in tact, then I hack the rest of the bunch with diagonal cuts. I like skinny asparagus, but if you’re using thicker stalks, slice it thinner.
The longer you can let the salad rest in the fridge before serving, the better.
1 pound asparagus, washed and trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 large garlic clove, grated
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Place the asparagus in a large bowl.
On a cutting board, combine the lemon zest, grated garlic and salt. Working with the heel of your hand against the flat blade of a chef’s knife, alternately chop and massage the mixture into a paste, using the salt as an abrasive. After a few firm rubs, scrape the flattened garlic back into a little pile, run the knife through it to mince it even finer and repeat the massaging and mincing process until the paste is nearly smooth.
Put the lemon-garlic paste in a small bowl. Add the anchovy paste, olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce if using, and all but 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan. Whisk until the dressing is smooth. Toss with the asparagus and cover tightly. Let rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour, overnight is even better. Top with the remaining Parmesan before serving.
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