Monthly Archives: July 2011

Asparagus and Pea Salad with Mint

You ever notice how one recipe can beget another?

Last summer when I was making my shaved asparagus pizza, I found myself snacking on the strands of asparagus that had been tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper. (I’m completely unable to resist “testing” ingredients as I go along.)

It made me wonder why so few recipes I have stumbled across call for raw asparagus, which, when lightly dressed, is lovely.

Now that the stalks are appearing again on grocery shelves, it got me thinking. And then I stumbled across a salad recipe, which combined asparagus shavings with some other great loves of mine: Parmesan, prosciutto, mint and lemon.

Asparagus and Pea Salad with Mint

This salad is kind of like six degrees of separation.

Mint goes well with peas, which are lovely with asparagus, a natural match to prosciutto.

Well, really, what doesn’t prosciutto go well with?

And a lemon-based dressing adds some refreshing tartness, while a little bit of honey brings out the natural sweetness of the peas.

Now, I am the first one to up the amounts of salad goodies — more Parmesan, more prosciutto, please and thank you.

But in this case, I’m going to, unexpectedly, advise restraint. Messing with the fine balance between salt and sweet, meat and cheese, mint and vegetables can upset the equilibrium.

Too much cheese and the salt overpowers the delicate flavours of asparagus and mint.

Too much prosciutto overwhelms the texture of the salad.

When the proportions are right, this salad is perfection.

Right after finishing the photo shoot, I inhaled a bowlful.

I loved the spring green flavour of the thinly shaved asparagus, the sweet peas and bright mint with the slight tang of the mustard and lemon dressing.

The prosciutto didn’t hurt either.

All the greens contrasted with the pink of cured ham and cream of Parmesan is quite pretty and makes this a great dish for entertaining.

Serve it out on the deck with some crusty bread and a nice bottle of wine.

Asparagus and Pea Salad with Mint II

Asparagus and Pea Salad with Mint

This salad is from Epicurious by way of Serious Eats.

If fresh peas are in season, feel free to use them instead of frozen peas. Frozen peas are perfectly tasty, though. Just defrost in a sieve with some hot water. To get nice Parmesan shavings, let the cheese sit out on the counter for 10 or 15 minutes and then use a vegetable peeler.

  • 1½ cups (375 mL) peas
  • 1 lb (500 g) asparagus
  • 6 cups (1.5 L) salad greens
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) chopped mint
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) shaved Parmesan
  • 8 slices prosciutto, cut in strips
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) lemon juice
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) honey
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) olive oil

Whisk together lemon juice, Dijon mustard, honey and salt and pepper.

Drizzle in the oil slowly while still whisking to emulsify the dressing.

Test the dressing and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Place salad greens in a large bowl, add chopped mint and peas.

Using the woody end as a handle, hold the asparagus against a cutting board and use a vegetable peeler to make long strips. (These will vary in thickness, which is fine.)

After shaving, you will be left holding the rough end, which can be discarded.

Repeat with all the asparagus and then add the shavings to the salad.

Add sliced prosciutto. Toss with dressing (start with only a portion of the dressing and add more as necessary; the salad may not need all of it).

Top with shaved Parmesan.

Serves 4.

This first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes and instructional videos, check out the Herald’s Food page.

Rhubarb Upside-down Cake

Before I get down to this (and, baby, this is well worth getting down to), a little apology and a tease of what’s going to be coming up on P&P. First, sorry for the delay in updating. Life, it has been hectic of late. That’s not a bad thing, except when it comes to keeping the blog a little more lively. But, my friends, I’ve got posts coming on my trip to Portland (hint: there are burgers. And they are t-a-s-t-y.), a scape pesto and some other goodies.

So, thanks for your patience. And now, let’s look at some cake, shall we?

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake III

It’s rhubarb season again and one of my most favourite times of the year (right up there with that point when cherry blossoms finally burst forth in frothy clouds of pink).

In the last few weeks, people have regaled me with stories of how their rhubarb patches are growing like weeds and they have no idea what to do with all those stalks. (Including one friend who actually didn’t know it was rhubarb in her garden. If I lived anywhere near her, I would have been tempted to drive over and take them all.)

I give them all the same response: I’m more than happy to take it off their hands.

I have no shame when it comes to rhubarb.

Red Rhubarb Stalks

I love it, those rosy-pink or mottled green stalks with their sour punch that mellows with a little sugar and heat.

I like it in crumb cakes and muffins, crisps and cocktails. (And here are a couple more.)

And when I saw this Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake from Martha Stewart, I knew exactly what my next project would be once I got my hands on a pound or two of the fruit.

My only real experience with upside-down cakes is the images from the ’60s and ’70s of the pineapple version with each golden ring dotted by a bright red maraschino cherry.

This version is all rhubarb with the top awash in rosy pink.

The question with upside-down cakes is always, will this upend properly to a gorgeous display of fruit on a golden-crumbed cake? The backup question follows: if it doesn’t, can I at least make it look like it did?

Except for a few errant pieces of rhubarb that slid off the cake’s edges, it came out beautifully. (Perhaps don’t jam them into the edges of the pan quite as enthusiastically as I did, since these were the ones that escaped from the top of the cake.)

I will say that I followed Stewart’s instructions exactly and she suggests removing the cake after only 10 minutes of cooling; otherwise, she says, it will stick.

As I lifted off the cake pan, rosy pink juices glided down the cake edge and settled on the cake stand like a thin moat.

It was definitely juicier than the image of Stewart’s perfect cake, but when it comes to that sweetened rhubarb syrup that forms when the fruit is cooked with a bit of sugar, I’m OK with that. And I’ve never heard anyone complain of an overly moist cake.

This was light and fluffy, slightly perfumed with orange and topped with softened rhubarb, sugar-kissed and slightly tangy.

And the unusual addition of a crumb topping (which then becomes the crumb bottom) added an unexpected, but nice, texture.

I thought it was a weird touch and was tempted to skip it initially, figuring rhubarb and cake alone would be tasty, but it added another dimension to the cake, which I liked.

And, with this, rhubarb season is on for me.

I can only hope other friends feel overwhelmed by an excess of rhubarb and they don’t mind me suggesting they feel free to pass it along.

Rhubarb and Sugar

Rhubarb and Sugar II

Crumb Topping

Cooked Crumb Topping

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake II

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake Slice

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

This comes from Martha Stewart. She suggests when putting the rhubarb in the cake pan to put the pinkest edges facing down so the cake, when upended, will have the best colour.

For the topping:

  • 4 tbsp (60 mL) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) sugar
  • coarse salt

For the cake:

  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) unsalted butter, divided, at room temperature, plus more for buttering pan
  • 1 lb (500 g) rhubarb, trimmed and cut on a very sharp diagonal about ½-inch (1-cm) thick
  • 1¾ cups (425 mL) sugar, divided
  • 1½ cups (375 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1½ tsp (7 mL) baking powder
  • coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) finely grated orange zest
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) fresh orange juice
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup (250 mL) sour cream

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

Make the topping: Stir together butter, flour, sugar and 1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt until moist and crumbly.

Make the cake: Butter a 9-inch (23-cm) round cake pan (2 inches/5 cm deep). Dot with 4 tbsp (60 mL) butter, cut into pieces. Toss rhubarb with 3/4 cup (175 mL) sugar; let stand for 2 minutes. Toss again, and spread in pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder and 1½ tsp (7 mL) salt. Beat remaining butter and cup of sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in zest and juice. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, until incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl.

Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with sour cream, until smooth. Spread evenly over rhubarb. Crumble topping evenly over batter.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean and top springs back when touched, about 1 hour. Let cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake, and invert onto a wire rack. Let cool completely.

Cook’s Note: Let the cake cool for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan. The rhubarb will be too hot to handle safely right after baking. But if the cake sits much longer, it may stick.

This first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes and instructional videos, check out the Herald’s Food page.