Wednesday, May 1, 2013

MIA Asparagus

Today is May 1st. What. The. Eff. Wasn't Easter just last weekend?! I guess not, but I'm going to tell you about mine anyway because it seems like it should have been. We have pretty nice weather nearly year-round in Santa Barbara (I know, punch me in my face), and it's usually particularly spectacular for Easter, which is a bonus because I always host a brunch. And by brunch, I mean entertaining and feeding 20+ people outdoors. But this year we woke up to a gray and rainy Easter—not very helpful for a party where 50% of the guests are under the age of 5. (Let me just say the Bloody Marys and mimosas went fast. . . .) It's also not ideal conditions to host a peeps regatta, which is the climax of the Easter brunch. 

You can read about it here and here and here, but it's basically a race where each person decorates a peep and then they "swim" a lap around the pool. Whomever wins gets bragging rights and a 24 oz solid chocolate bunny. 

Since it seems like no one over the age of 4 has ever won, parents are not too stoked on the winner's "purse." But it's Easter after all so really what's another 1437 grams of sugar?

Anyway, another highlight is my friend Meredith's amazing cake. She is giving Duff the Cake Boss a run for his money. Last year it was a giant peep cake. This year it was a mega chocolate bunny (with his head cut off, which didn't seem to phase the kids in the least). It was truly a culinary feat carved out of 15 individual cakes.

Since I host this brunch annually, I kind of have the menu down pat, but I do try to switch up a few items each year. This year I planned to make an asparagus salad with lentils and oranges. It seemed perfect for Spring and a brunch because it could be made early in the morning and would hold up well. 

It's always a bit of a fire drill when you're hosting a party, though, and it's not unusual that I forget to do something or put something out. This event was no exception. I was super excited about this beautifully composed salad which would allow the main ingredient—the ASPARAGUS—to really shine. 

I had everything on the table and ready for the guests to arrive when I turned around and noticed 4 POUNDS of ASPARAGUS cooked and chopped and ready for the ASPARAGUS salad sitting in a colander IN THE SINK. That's right. The ASPARAGUS for the ASPARAGUS salad was not IN the ASPARAGUS salad. Blonde!!!

For a second, I did ponder whether or not I could convert the asparagus into party favors ("Thank you for coming. Please enjoy the steamed asparagus as a gesture of my appreciation."), but then I wanted people to come back in the future. So I bit the bullet and dumped my beautifully composed salad into an enormous bowl and tried the best I could to incorporate the ASPARAGUS for the ASPARAGUS salad INTO the actual ASPARAGUS salad. Granted it didn't look as pretty as the original salad did but it looked fine and definitely tasted more than fine. 

It's a really delicious and well balanced salad (or vegetarian entree). The asparagus are crisp, the lentils add some texture and "body," the fennel delivers an undertone of freshness, and the citrus provides the perfect pop of acid. The Champagne-shallot vinaigrette brought it all together and really infused the individual ingredients with the perfect sweet-tang. 

I would definitely make this again. It would be perfect for a Kentucky Derby party (which is THIS Saturday!!!), Mother's Day brunch (which is NEXT Sunday), a picnic or even a potluck supper. I would just remind you to make sure you put the asparagus IN the asparagus salad. Minor detail. 

Asparagus, Orange and Lentil Salad
from Southern Living

1 medium-sized fennel bulb
2 large oranges, peeled and sliced (I used pink Cara Cara's and blood oranges for color variety)
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, divided
2 lbs fresh asparagus
1 1/2 cup green lentils (or pink if you can find them)
Champagne-shallot vinaigrette (recipe follows)
2 cups assorted lettuces, chopped
1/2 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley 

1. Rinse fennel thoroughly. Trim and discard root end of bulb. Trim stalks from bulb and chop fronds to equal 1/4 cup; reserve stalks and remaining fronds for another use. Thinly slice bulb and toss with oranges, pepper and 1/2 tsp salt. Cover and let stand until ready to use. 
2. Meanwhile, cut asparagus into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Cut stalks diagonally into thin slices, discarding tough stems. Bring 3 cups of water and 1/2 tsp salt to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add asparagus and cook 1 to 2 minutes or until crisp-tender; drain. Plunge into ice water to stop the cooking process; drain. Pat dry with paper towels. 
3. Bring 3 cups water and remaining 1/2 tsp salt to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add lentils; return to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring often, 8 to 10 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain well and rinse with cold water. [Note: These can be cooked the day before and stored covered in the refrigerator.] Toss lentils with 1/4 cup vinaigrette. 
4. Combine lettuces, parsley, asparagus, fennel mixture, and fennel fronds in a large bowl. toss with remaining vinaigrette. Spoon lentils over a serving platter; top with asparagus mixture. 
Yields: 8 cups but can easily be doubled

Champagne-Shallot Vinaigrette
Whisk together 3 Tbsp Champagne vinegar, 1 Tbsp finely chopped shallots, 2 tsp honey, 2 tsp Dijon mustard, 1/2 tsp kosher salt, and 1/4 tsp ground pepper in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil until blended. 

1 comment:

  1. Hilarious! I get a little absent minded too when I cook or bake. One time I mixed my cookie dough and realized I forgot to add the dry ingredients. : )