Late last week came the time that Loyola House cooks have been dreaming wistfully about all winter … the first produce from our organic farm is here! The asparagus started slow but this warm, wet weather will accelerate it into full swing this week. Now is the time to take a couple of hours and fill the freezer – after a few good gorges, of course! There really isn’t anything like an organic vegetable that’s only a couple of hours out of the ground.
At the same time, our kitchen herb garden is springing to life. The clever chive border that we put in as protection from insects is a handspan high and showing signs of graduating from border to hedge-hood this year. The perennials are starting to leaf out … and the mint … of course the mint is back. Now is the time to explain to the mint (with trowel in hand) that it can’t have the entire garden this year either!
One of the recipes we like to dust off for the warm weather features both asparagus and fresh herbs and that is the Loyola House interpretation of the classic French dish “Salade Nicoise”. This is a main-course salad that features (among many other things) green beans but this time of year we slyly substitute asparagus and it is all the better for it. Traditionally, this is a “composed” salad – carefully and artistically arranged patterns of separate ingredients complementing each other in shape and colour. This doesn’t work so well on a buffet line for 40 people who only have an hour for lunch! Invariably someone will steal all the hardboiled eggs and after the first couple of people serve themselves, any artistic arrangement is only a fond memory. So we toss all ingredients together and stand back …
Whisk together …
2 T grainy Dijon mustard
1 t chopped garlic
1/4 c lemon juice
1/4 c white wine vinegar
Whisk in very slowly …
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
Stir in …
2 T olive brine
1 t black pepper
up to 1/4 c chopped fresh herbs as your garden (or farmer’s market) provides. I am particularly fond of chives (cut on the diagonal of course!) and basil (purple if you can get it – both for its beauty and the intriguingly spicy flavour). Other good candidates are parsley, chervil, thyme (if you have the patience for stripping all those tiny leaves you will be well rewarded with taste and health benefits), tarragon and dill. Our kitchen herb garden has a well established lovage patch … TOO well established, maybe. While lovage gives an earthy celery flavour with a useful touch of bitterness (my new favourite flavour), only the very young leaves should be used … and those sparingly!
It is useful to make this dressing the day before serving so that the flavours can mingle and get ready to party on your tongue! It will keep very well in the fridge – although the lemon juice may leach the colour from the herbs. Of course, the olive oil will solidify in the cold – this is how you know you have a good olive oil – so bring it to room temperature and shake well before using.
for the salad, toss gently with 1 c of the above dressing …
2 c boiled potato – you can use left-over ones or boil minis in their jackets, then quarter and toss with a little of the dressing (you did make it ahead of time, didn’t you?) and leave to cool in the fridge overnight.
1 c calamata olives (pitted is nice if you have the time)
2 c asparagus – cut in bite-sized pieces, lightly steamed and cooled immediately in cold water, then drained well
1 c tomato – a beefsteak-style cut in chunks or use Elmira’s Own grape tomatoes – a very tasty local product
2 cans light tuna – well-drained
Serve on a bed of greens (if desired) and garnish with hardboiled eggs in quarters.
Enjoy – on the patio, if possible – and join me in waiting, semi-patiently, for the next installment of nature’s bounty. And take good care of each other!