Spring cleaning began late this year. The warm weather arrived in the northeast later than planned, leaving me with less time to get through my spring chore list. You see, spring is a critical season for me, without it I would never be prepared for the arrival of summer. When the thermometer finally creeps north of sixty degrees it is like someone zaps me with a defibrillator. Every morning the early sunlight and fresh breezes blast me out of bed, sending me racing through my day, to-do lists in hand, preparing for the hot summer ahead. In the past week I have tackled my important seasonal chores like swapping winter sweaters for summer blouses, cleaning the winter grime off our windows and removing the fleece foot muff from my daughter's stroller. It is not unusual that, while I am sprucing up my household, I take time to spruce up my recipes as well. After all it is not just my closets that need spring cleaning, my kitchen does, too.
One of my favorite ways to liven up spring menus is by adding lots of fresh greens obtained at our local farmer's market or gourmet food store. Last week, while I was shopping, I encountered my very first bundle of local asparagus. It was pencil thin, bright green and begging for me to take it home. Naturally, I was thrilled that one of my favorite vegetables was finally available again and promptly added it to my basket. Now, just so everyone knows, I wasn't always good at preparing asparagus. My first few attempts at replicating my mother's blanched asparagus with herbed butter were disastrous. I boiled the asparagus until it was as limp as a spaghetti noodle, dunked it in ice water to no effect and essentially served myself a tasteless, murky green vegetable. The good news, however, is that over time my techniques have much improved and my asparagus preparation, though simple, is delicious. So, to kick off the asparagus season this year, I decided to start with a recipe I had saved to celebrate the occasion.
I originally encountered the idea for this recipe when reading Cooking for Mr. Latte, by Amanda Hesser. I loved the idea of a citrus vinaigrette contrasting the flavors of the peppery arugula. I have made this salad a few times in the past ten days and it has gotten better and better each time. I have even experimented with a few substitutions, adding lemon juice instead of orange juice to the dressing, and adding cherry tomatoes for additional color and flavor. Every experiment has yielded excellent results, proving that this recipe is quite flexible. The best part is that most of it can be prepared during naptime. Simply cook the asparagus, cut it into one inch pieces and let it cool. Then, prepare the vinaigrette and leave it, covered, in the fridge. At dinner time you merely have to assemble the salad by putting the ingredients together in a bowl and giving it a good toss, a procedure you could probably do in your sleep. We found that each bite of this salad contains many layers of flavors along with a satisfying crunch from the asparagus shoots. Yesterday, after finishing our last helping, my husband remarked that this is his favorite spring salad yet. I was, of course, thrilled to hear this and will definitely be adding this salad to my to-do list tomorrow.
Naptime Asparagus Salad with Goat Cheese and Citrus Vinaigrette - adapted from Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser
3/4 lb. thin asparagus, trimmed
2 large handfuls arugula
Juice of 1 orange (I used a sweet mineola) OR Juice of 1 lemon for a more tart taste
1 t. red wine vinegar
1 T. whole-grain Dijon mustard
1/3 cup good olive oil
2 oz. fresh goat cheese, crumbled
Salt & Pepper to taste
Ideas for Additions if you want: 1 c. cherry tomatoes, halved; 1/2 c. toasted pine nuts; feta cheese instead of goat cheese.
1. Cook asparagus in a pot of boiling water, seasoned with salt, for about 3 minutes, or until tender. Drain the water and run the asparagus under cold tap water to stop cooking.
2. Dry the asparagus completely on a kitchen towel, then slice into one inch pieces and combine in a bowl with the arugula.
3. In a small bowl whisk together citrus juice, vinegar, mustard, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk until fully combined.
4. Pour vinaigrette over the asparagus and arugula, toss to coat.
5. Top salad with crumbled goat cheese and serve.
Naptime Recipe Props: This recipe is a great way to enjoy green vegetables in a new form. Like any salad, you can add or subtract what you would like. I would recommend adding the tomatoes if you like them, they added an additional flavor that we enjoyed.
Naptime Stopwatch: This salad is a cinch to prepare. It took about 20 minutes to prepare all of the ingredients during naptime, then about 2 minutes to combine at dinner time.
Naptime Reviews: My daughter has not yet developed a taste for asparagus, but that is OK with me. I think she will learn to like it in the next few years. In the mean time, my husband and I plan to eat this quite often this summer!