The bounty of spring is at its peak right now, and strawberries, apricots, asparagus, artichokes, cherries, English peas and more are in wild abundance at the farmers’ market. But with so much appetizing produce to choose from, how do you decide what you should buy?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught of options, take a pointer from vegetable whisperer Joshua McFadden: If you have to make just one dish this spring, you should make it this perfect asparagus salad. We asked McFadden, who is the chef at Portland’s hit restaurant Ava Gene’s and author of the brand-new book Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables, to tell us why.
“I love this dish because it’s more than the sum of its parts,” he tells us. “It really highlights the freshness of asparagus, which comes with the excitement of spring, and the mint adds and herbaceous flavor, an element of surprise and depth, and really complements the natural flavors of the asparagus.”
The secret to making this dish mind-blowing, according to the chef, is the breadcrumbs: “Make sure you make good quality breadcrumbs to use in this salad—it takes a bit longer, but it’s worth it!” Serve it for just about any occasion: as part of a springtime desk lunch, as the side for a picnic, at a barbecue alongside grilled meats, you name it.
Get the recipe below. Portlanders: If you love this asparagus salad, be sure to stop by our store for a Rosé Brunch Celebration this weekend.
Raw Asparagus Salad with Breadcrumbs, Walnuts, and Mint
Make this dish before you do any cooked asparagus dishes, at the start of the season when you get pristine spears. At first glance, the dish looks kind of “meh,” but once you taste it, the flavor and texture blow you away. Be sure to cut the asparagus very thin.
1/3 cup dried breadcrumbs (see below)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped lightly toasted walnuts
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dried chile flakes
1 pound asparagus, tough ends trimmed
About 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup lightly packed mint leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil
Put the breadcrumbs, Parmigiano, walnuts, and lemon zest in a large bowl. Add 1 teaspoon salt, a bunch of twists of black pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon chile flakes. Toss to combine everything.
Cut the asparagus on a sharp angle into very thin slices and add to the crumb mixture. Add 1/4 cup lemon juice and toss some more. Taste and dial in the flavors by adding more salt, black pepper, chile flakes, or lemon juice.
When the flavors are bright and delicious, add the mint and 1/4 cup olive oil and toss. Taste and adjust again, and serve.
The better the bread, the better the crumbs; I like whole grain. Cut the bread into 1/2-inch-thick slices, leaving the crust on. Cut the slices into cubes and then spread them in an even layer on a baking sheet (or more than one pan, if making a lot; a 12-ounce loaf should fit onto one pan).
Heat the oven to its lowest setting, usually about 250°F. Bake the cubes until they are fully dry, but not browned. This could take an hour or more, depending on the bread’s moisture and density.
Cool fully and then process into crumbs by pulsing in a food processor. The goal is small crumbs more or less the same size, though some bigger ones are fine—think Grape-Nuts. You want to avoid too much fine powder, however, so stop once or twice and pour off the finer crumbs or shake through a colander and then continue to crush the remaining big pieces.
Store the crumbs in an airtight container. If fully dry, they’ll stay fresh for a few weeks.
Excerpted from Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2017. Photographs by Laura Dart and A.J. Meeker