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It looks like spring, smells like spring, feels like spring. And now that local farm stands are proudly displaying the first asparagus of the season, it really is spring. I busted loose at Latham’s, run by a family that has farmed this part of the North Fork of Long Island for generations. All that separates the sturdy butter-yellow structure from Orient Harbor is a long, broad, gently sloping field, and every time I pull off the road there, I’m reminded of just how rare maritime farmland is in this part of the world.

I’m also reminded of what true luxury is: the chance to buy asparagus that was picked an hour or so ago, then going home to fix it for lunch. I was in such a hurry, I didn’t even cook it.

Instead, I made the salad below. The recipe is from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, by the late influential San Francisco chef Judy Rodgers and tweaked (in order to serve six) for the March 2002 issue of Gourmet. Rodgers used lamb’s lettuce (a.k.a. mâche), but any soft, tender butterhead lettuce will do the trick. Use fleshy jumbo asparagus, she advises, and the purple variety if you can find it; since it’s served raw, it will retain its color. “You may be surprised to learn that the stem of any spear of asparagus is sweeter than the tip, especially raw,” she wrote. “So trim off the pretty tips and save them for risotto, or pasta.” Nice in an omelet or stir-fry, too.

“By itself, this spring salad makes a good first course,” Rodgers added. “It is delicious and lovely piled in a small mound on thinly sliced prosciutto.” And how.

I picked out the largest spears from my haul for one of the most immediately gratifying lunches ever, and saved their tips as well as the slender spears for another meal. Which was dinner.

Lettuce with Raw Asparagus, Pistachios, & Parmigiano-Reggiano

Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, by Judy Rodgers, with thanks to Gourmet 

Serves 6

2 tablespoons shelled unsalted pistachios

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar or white-wine vinegar

Coarse salt

6 very fresh jumbo asparagus spears (or the largest you can find; about 9 ounces), trimmed

3 ounces lamb’s lettuce (mâche), trimmed, or butterhead lettuce leaves, torn into bite-size pieces (about 12 cups)

An enjoyable amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings (use a vegetable peeler)

1. Preheat the oven to 350º. Warm the pistachios on a baking sheet 2 to 3 minutes to intensify their flavor, then coarsely chop.

2. Whisk together the oil, vinegar, and salt to taste.

3. Cut the tips from the asparagus and reserve for another use. Starting at the tip end, cut asparagus into very thin (about 1/8-inch-thick) slices on a long diagonal.

4. Gently toss the lettuce with the asparagus, pistachios, and just enough vinaigrette to coat, then season salad with salt and pepper. Top with the Parmigiano shavings and devour immediately.



Comment from Emily Cooper
Time May 6, 2015 at 11:13 am

Love seeing asparagus being featured on your blog! We are just starting to harvest our own asparagus here in New Hampshire. I hope you don’t mind that I added a link to your post in our blog.
Thank you!

Comment from admin
Time May 8, 2015 at 9:59 am

Thanks so much, Emily! Best of luck with your asparagus harvest!

Comment from John Ota
Time May 7, 2015 at 2:01 pm

Great article. I’m already on my way to pick up asparagus.

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