Shaved Asparagus Salad with Asparagus Buttermilk Dressing and Pickled Asparagus Tips
With his trademark crisp white shirt, Christmas-red bow tie, and denim overalls that he’s never without (not even at the black-tie Jame Beard Awards), Farmer Lee Jones is a larger-than-life character.
But he is no caricature.
He is the real deal.
When his family nearly lost its soy bean and corn farm in Ohio during the 1980’s economic downturn, he managed to save it by taking a gamble to transform it.
Instead of growing feed crops like soybeans and corn, he downsized to nurture obscure specialty herbs, fruits and vegetables after a chance meeting with a chef looking for someone to grow squash blossoms.
Today, the small, sustainable Chef’s Garden is revered by chefs nationwide, including Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and Jose Andres. It’s this farm that we have to thank for the whole microgreens movement. During the pandemic, the farm adapted to changing times once again, offering delivery of its produce to consumers so that Jones wouldn’t have to lay off any employees, despite its main customer base, restaurants, ordering far less because of curtailed operations.
Jones’ story is captured in “The Chef’s Garden: A Modern Guide to Common and Unusual Vegetables–with Recipes” (Avery), of which I received a review copy. Written by Jones with Kristin Donnelly, former food editor at Food & Wine magazine, this lavishly photographed 240-page book is not only packed with recipes, but detailed information about selecting, storing, cleaning and using a wealth of produce. The book hones in on both the familiar and the esoteric, from ramps, hearts of palm, and bamboo shoots to amaranth, arrowhead root, and crystal lettuces.
The recipes are largely geared to the ambitious cook with dishes such as “Trussed and Roasted Celery Stalks with Celery Root Puree and Celery Salad,” “898 Squash with Honeycomb Candy and Apple Cider Reduction,” and “Vegetable-Top Financiers” (with the traditionally sweet little cakes going savory and turning vibrant green from the use of carrot tops, leek tops or turnip tops in the batter).
“Shaved Asparagus Salad with Asparagus Buttermilk Dressing and Pickled Asparagus” would be right at home at a fancy, fine-dining restaurant. Normally, I’m one to just grill asparagus spears whole, brushed with olive oil and seasoned with just salt and pepper, and call it a day. This recipe, on the other hand, showcases asparagus three different ways in one dish.
It’s not a complicated recipe, but it does require several components. First, you have to pickle the asparagus tips in a simple mixture of vinegar, water, sugar, and salt. It’s a quick method that leaves the tips still fairly crunchy and with just a hint of tang. Second, the stalks are shaved into thin slivers, then placed in an ice water-bath so they crisp up and curl. These raw shavings form the foundation of the salad. And third, the asparagus ends are blitzed in a blender with buttermilk, herbs, garlic, and onion powder to make the dressing. It’s sieved, so the resulting liquid is thin like a vegetable juice and brilliantly green. The dressing is also a great use for tough asparagus ends that most of us usually just toss.
It all makes for a pretty composed salad with curls of shaved asparagus intertwined around the pickled tips, fresh orange segments, and crunchy croutons. The vivid dressing get spooned over everything.
It’s a salad that’s light and refreshing, bright and crisp, and really brings the sweet natural taste of the asparagus to the forefront.
Sit down to enjoy it in your best overalls — if you like.
Shaved Asparagus Salad with Asparagus Buttermilk Dressing and Pickled Asparagus
3 slices day-old sourdough bread, cut into cubes
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Basic Pickle Brine (see Recipe below)
1 pound large asparagus, preferably multiple colors, snapped-off ends reserved for dressing
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 chopped fresh chives, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
1 garlic clove
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 orange, peel removed, orange segmented
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the bread cubes with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and season with a little salt and pepper. Bake for 25 minutes, stirring once or twice, until crisp. Let cool slightly, then break into coarse crumbs.
In a small saucepan, bring the brine to a boil. Meanwhile, remove the tips of your asparagus at 1 1/2 inches. Add them to the brine and remove from the heat. Blanch until bright green, about 30 seconds. Drain. (After the brine cools, you can store the pickled tips in it, if desired.)
Shave the stalks of your asparagus lengthwise using a sharp peeler, without turning the vegetable. You will being creating ribbons by peeling all the way through the vegetable to the other side. Transfer these ribbons to a bowl of ice water. Reserve any pieces that will not shave easily for the dressing.
In a blender, combine all of the asparagus trim, including the reserved asparagus ends and unshaven pieces, the buttermilk, chives, parsley, garlic, onion powder, 1 teaspoon salt, and a few cracks of pepper and blend on high. Reduce the speed to medium and gradually pour in the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil until fully incorporated. Taste and season the dressing with more salt and pepper, if desired. Strain through a sieve into a jar or bowl. (You can store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, if not using immediately.)
Remove the shaved asparagus from the ice water, allowing the excess water to drip off. Season with some salt. Arrange the ribbons in the center of each of four serving plates. Scatter some bread crumbs on the asparagus. Spoon the dressing over the asparagus ribbons and crumbs. Place the pickled asparagus tips in the open places. Garnish with the orange segments, and finish with more parsley and chives. Add half a turn of the pepper to each of the salads and serve.
Basic Pickle Brine
(Makes 1 1/4 cups)
1 cup filtered water
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
In a small saucepan, bring water and vinegar to a boil. Add the sugar and salt and stir to dissolve. Let cool. Can be refrigerated for up to 4 weeks.
From “The Chef’s Garden” by Farmer Lee Jones with Kristin Donnelly
More Asparagus Recipes to Enjoy: Arroz Negro with Rockfish, Sea Scallops, Snap Peas and Asparagus from Duende