Saturday, 12 April 2014

Stalking the Dragon

Insalata di Radicchio, Asparaci & Fagioli con Dragoncello & Limone
Radicchio, Asparagus & Bean Salad with Tarragon & Lemon

It is that time of the year again... Asparagus time! Be it green from Italy or Spain, or the traditional German white, our market hall here was filled with the first stalks of the season today... and although I am not the greatest of fans, a nice big bunch of Italian green found its way home with me... and I am sure you will make its acquaintance over the course of the next few days...

Another one of my favorite things that I picked up today was a nice little bunch of fragrant tarragon. I didn't really know what I was going to do with it at the time, but whenever I see it, I think of its name in Italian and smile. How adorable that they call it Dragoncello! You have just got to love that name!

Ok, I said I am not a big fan of asparagus... let me say that what is closer to the truth is that I am not a fan of many of the ways it is often prepared- especially the white asparagus and Hollandaise sauce excesses "enjoyed" here in Germany. May I say "whatever"? To boil or steam it and then pour a buttery sauce over it is... well... just plain boring to me. I wanted to try something different. And as you can see- of course, I did :-)

For the first of my asparagus dishes this week, I decided to use it raw, in a salad with some lovely, bitter radicchio, some mild and tender Greek beans out of the can, a little onion, lemon, the aforementioned tarragon and a little honey, garlic and olive oil for the dressing. Sounds good... looks good... tastes good... IS good!

And of course it is super- simple to prepare! First things first- the radicchio needs to be freed of its trunk, so that the leaves can me separated and  briefly rinsed and dried, ready to use as little boats to hold the beans and asparagus.

I know that not everyone likes the bitter flavor of radicchio, but I personally find it delicious and refreshing... 2 great reasons to eat it for me- as well as its lovely vibrant color.

The rest of the ingredients needed just a little of my attention too- I first cut away about a third of the asparagus' woody ends, bending the talks slightly from the towards the tip, little by little, until I got to an area where it easily snapped- try it and you will see what I mean- it is an easy and foolproof method. As for those end pieces, they can be used for stock or soup wonderfully of course! There is a lot of good flavor in them... only... you don't want to be chewing on a piece of wood! Haha!

Keep the tips to use as a decoration at the end and finely slice the rest of the asparagus, as well as the Spring onion. For a little bit more of a "zing" of citrus flavor, I also cut off 2-3 strips of lemon peel as finely as possible and then chopped them into super-fine slivers to sprinkle over the salad... I love doing that with my dishes!

All that needs to be done now if for the radicchio to be laid out decoratively on your serving dish and for it to be filled, layer by layer with the other ingredients. Begin with the beans, which are simply taken straight from the can and drained and are the main part of this lovely dish- they will weigh down the radicchio and keep it in place, which is also very practical. 

Now you can sprinkle them with the finely sliced asparagus and onion, scatter generously with the lemon zest and plenty of tarragon... and then get busy shaking up a lively little dressing to bring it all to life!

I made the dressing from the juice of the lemon, 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of honey, a good pinch of salt and a generous grind of mixed peppers. I gave this a good shake in a sealed jar, then poured it over the salad and  gave it a little extra pepper, just to give it a bit of oomph to contrast with the sweetness of the honey in the dressing and the sourness of the lemon.

Of course the radicchio is already bitter from the start, but the beans are so mild and "buttery" tasting that they balance all of these other flavor components out wonderfully... as well as making this light salad into a rather satisfying Spring or Summer meal. 

The cool thing about the asparagus and beans filled into the radicchio this way is that it makes it very easy to serve without it becoming messy and losing any of its prettiness... which would have been a shame- don't you think?

Which also makes this very suitable to serve as an appetizer or as a great addition to the buffet spread of any party. It certainly is quite an eye-catcher! And it definitely is something just a little different!

So that was dish one with my green asparagus- and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Stay tuned over the next couple of days... as the best (and the rest!) is yet to come! But buon appetito for now!

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