Ahhh, Spring! Those of us that love to buy local and seasonal produce feel our hearts stir this time of year. The trees start leafing out and you feel a little pep in your step and then all of a sudden, the ramps show up! Ramps are the long-awaited symbol of the coming culinary bounty in the Midwest.
Next comes the asparagus, roughly snapped across the bottom as if picked that very morning. You grill it on a warmer night and roast it on a cooler one and you think, I could get used to this. Next, you come across some of that divine purple variety and you roast and grill some more and you think, this is how we were meant to eat. The next morning you’re kind of weirded out by the smell of your pee, but a few days later you make an asparagus risotto anyway because the asparagus still looks so damn fresh. You’re back at the market again, and lo and behold, asparagus! What is it with all the asparagus? Isn’t anybody growing any beets? Can I get some Swiss chard up in here?
Well guys, it’s May 2nd, and it’s still undoubtedly asparagus season in Chicago. I had to come up with something new to do with my week’s rations, and this simple and lovely salad is just the thing – with tart sundried tomatoes, salty ricotta salata cheese, and the inimitable flavor and texture of pine nuts. You’ve got a few more weeks of asparagus in you, right?
For the dressing:
5 olive oil-packed sundried tomatoes
2 Tbsp. additional oil from the sundried tomato jar
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
about a dozen salt-packed capers, rinsed
pinch of salt
For the Salad:
1 bunch of asparagus, medium or large sized stalks
2 medium zucchini
3 Tbsp. pine nuts, toasted at 325 degrees for 7-9 minutes
Ricotta Salata cheese shavings or crumbles (any salty, crumbly cheese will work well)
Place all the dressing ingredients into a food processor and whiz a few times to chop the tomatoes. The dressing will be chunky, which is just what you want. Set aside.
Shave the asparagus and zucchini with a vegetable peeler. For the asparagus, hold the stalk by its woody bottom, lay it on a cutting board, and peel it away in long, thin strips, getting as close as you safely can to the bottom (near your hand). One little strip will remain that the peeler can’t reach, so just snap it off and place it in a large bowl with the other shavings. For the zucchini, leave the top intact to use as a handle as with the asparagus. Rotate the zucchini as you go to help keep the strips on the thinner side. Add to the bowl with the asparagus.
Just before you’re ready to serve the salad, gently toss the asparagus and zucchini strips with the dressing. Transfer to a bowl or platter and top with the shaved or crumbled cheese and the toasted pine nuts.