A trio of summer salads that are easy to prepare and pair easily with your favorite grilled meat, fish or veggies. Light and refreshing and sure to brighten up your plate.
ASPARAGUS AND RHUBARB SALAD
10 stalks asparagus – ends broken off
3 stalks rhubarb – slightly shaved
2 cups pea shoots
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Lightly brush asparagus with olive oil and roast until tender. Slice into 1” pieces. Slice the rhubarb into matchsticks. Whisk together the vinegar, olive oil and honey. Toss asparagus and rhubarb with dressing in a serving bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with pea shoots and lemon zest.
STRAWBERRY AND ASPARAGUS SALAD
1 pint strawberries sliced
4 cups baby arugula
10 stalks asparagus – ends broken off
Goat Lady Chevre
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Lightly brush asparagus with olive oil and roast until tender. Slice into 1” pieces. Put arugula in a serving bowl and add strawberries. Whisk together vinegar and olive oil – season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss the arugula and strawberries. Top with dollops of goat cheese and almonds.
FAVA BEANS AND PORTOBELLO MUSHROOMS
1 pound fava beans shelled
3 Portobello Mushrooms cleaned
¼ pound aged pecorino shaved
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
⅓ cup white wine vinegar
1 T dijon mustard
Steam fava beans for 1-2 minutes (should still be bright green) remove from heat and put on ice to quick chill. Slice portobellos. Whisk together olive oil, vinegar and mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss together mushrooms and cooled favas. Top with pecorino and serve.
In this deceptively simple side, tender asparagus spears are wrapped in thin, crispy slices of guanciale, a bacon-like cut of cured pork cheek. The clean flavor of roasted young asparagus contrasts beautifully with the salty-savory flavor of our traditional Umbrian guanciale.
Asparagus Spears with Guanciale
Guanciale, thinly sliced
-Clean and peel asparagus
-Parboil for 2-4 minutes until just softened
-Wrap spears with a thin slice of guanciale
-Roast a 425 degrees for 10 minutes, until pork is slightly crisp
When we opened our doors on a cold and rainy November morning, we made a promise to ourselves to use fresh, seasonal, local produce in our café, on our dinner menus and to sell in our market. And though I love a good root vegetable – beets, turnips, radishes, winter squashes and potatoes – no one was happier than me to see the weather turn from winter to spring, bringing with it a new produce season.
First came the mushrooms, and not just the usual cremini and portabello but beech mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and maitake mushrooms as well! Hot on their heels came the rest of the goodies. I have never been so excited to see rhubarb, spring garlic, and, at long last, tomatoes and strawberries. Hallelujah, now the fun begins! For starters, we will be eating everything straight up raw, or maybe with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. We will also be experimenting with the produce – cooking with them, adding them to pasta and soups, making desserts and pastries – seeing how to best capture their natural flavors to enhance our favorite dishes.
Stop by and enjoy the bounty at Via Umbria! Take our produce home to prepare in your kitchen, or if you’re not up to cooking, you can enjoy them in our café or at a dinner event. If you see something unfamiliar that you don’t know how to cook – ask! We are ready to help.
Via Umbria gets deliveries from Tuscarora Farms every Tuesday and Friday. Come early and come often because now every day is Farmer’s Market Day! Here are a few of my favorite ways to enjoy this week’s delicious haul:
My favorite way to eat them? Definitely just straight out of the carton (probably before I even make it home)! And of course, they’re fantastic on top of gelato, zabaglione or in a tiramisu with cream and prosecco. But strawberries aren’t just for dessert, try them tossed in a salad with wildfire lettuce, almonds and parmigiano. If you love trying new things, drizzle them lightly with aged balsamic. Sounds a bit weird, but tastes amazing!
Asparagus tastes great on its own, but there are many ways to really ehance the flavor: roasted with hearty olive oil and sea salt, wrapped with guanciale and grilled, or roasted with rhubarb and toasted pistachios. You can combine it with pasta sauce, guanciale and fresh tomatoes served with homemade tagliatelle. And for a lighter dish, lightly steam the asparagus and serve in a baby lettuce salad with roasted chicken and sliced tomatoes.
Sometimes simple is the best way to go! Tomatoes taste great sliced and served with a drizzle of Olio Verde and Sea Salt from Cervia. But if you want to experiment with flavors, try a traditional dish like Caprese salad with fresh Mozzarella from DiPalo’s (arrives fresh every Thursday!) and fresh basil from the farm. Tomatoes are also a primary ingredient in Bruschetta (everyone’s favorite!) – simply mix with olive oil, garlic, and a hint of pepperoncini. Another way to enjoy them is diced with red onions, Firefly Creamery’s Black and Blue Cheese and a drizzle of balsamic.
A culinary secret! Because spring garlic hasn’t yet fully developed, it has a milder flavor than regular garlic. Slice and use it in everything, either cooked or raw. Try it with aioli, stir fry, in a vinaigrette, tossed with handmade pasta and olive oil, and add it to salads.
Ramps, or wild leeks, have a sharp flavor that tastes like a combination of garlic and onion. You can use them any way that you would normally use leeks or onions. Try them grilled and served as a side drizzled with olive oil and sea salt, in scrambled eggs, a frittata, or simply toss them into a salad. If you aren’t ready for Ramp season to be over, pickle them and use them all year long!
Everybody knows rhubarb! It’s quite tart, so the best way is to add a bit of sugar. It’s great in a crumble, crisp or buckle (whatever it’s know as to you) topped with a sweet dough or oatmeal and brown sugar and baked. And of course, rhubarb pie – with or without strawberries – is a classic! You can also cook it down with sugar to make a compote for a crostata, to serve over gelato or to spread on toast. Rhubarb is a great addition to savory dishes as well, it can be diced and cooked with wild greens served with freshly grilled Umbrian Sausages.
Italy has afforded us countless memorable experiences. Unique snapshots of time and place that simply don’t exist for us at home. A memorable meal under a moonlit sky with friends and family in tow. A stroll through the woods in pursuit of a truffle sniffing dog to locate and retrieve from its earthy hiding spot musty, aromatic truffles. Donning a protective suit and gloves to liberate a hive full of honey from our honeybees.
Italy is not so different from America. But it is different enough that each day brings the possibility of doing something, experiencing something that is truly unique. And so it was with my day of asparagus hunting in the woods of central Umbria.
I don’t believe asparagus hunting exists in America, unless you count pushing your shopping cart through the produce aisle in the supermarket and “discovering” bundles of green stalks, rubber banded together and standing upright, ready to be taken by the urban hunter. But for several weeks each spring the Italian landscape is dotted with Fiat Pandas parked on little country lanes, their owners combing every possible hillside for these delicacies that define the term “fresh.” We’ve buzzed by as families methodically scour roadside shoulders and we have been amazed to see groups of friends strolling through town centers with enormous armfuls of asparagus, showing off the bundles of their handiwork like it is just in a day’s work. And so I was not particularly surprised when the first words out of my mouth when I ran into Amadeo, husband of le Delizie del Borgo co-owner Ombretta Ubaldi, and someone known to me to be an avid asparagus hunter, “when are you going to take me out asparagus hunting?”
Without much of a thought, Amadeo replied, “domani. Partiamo da qui alle otto e un quarto.” The die was cast. We were to depart from the restaurant at 8:15 the next morning. The only word of advice he gave me was to wear boots. To protect against the deadly poisonous vipers.
The next morning I was at the restaurant. At 8:10. And I had my boots, borrowed from Marco’s brother in law Alberto. It didn’t matter that they were a size too small and painful to wear. They were less painful than a viper bite would be.
Amadeo arrived on time and we had the obligatory morning espresso before taking off in his Panda to a secluded wood about 15 minutes from the center of Bevagna. Conversation was not exactly easy, as Amadeo speaks no English. I fumbled my way through Italian, asking questions about whatever popped into my head. It was a beautiful, sunny day with mild temperatures. It promised to be a great day whether we spoke or not.
And so it was. Amadeo lent me a snipper, a sort of pair of scissors on a long stick that allows you to cut the asparagus stalk without reaching into the thicket because, as we now know, vipers may lurk there. The snipper cuts the asparagus stalk and grabs it, allowing you to bring the stalk to you and to add it to your bundle.
The difficulty in asparagus hunting is not the snipping, the harvesting. It is the locating. The seeing. For four hours Amadeo and I trudged through thicket, along hillsides and stream beds. I climbed over fallen trees, untangled myself (and my anti-viper boots) from vines and took a nasty direct hit in the eye from a branch that left me in pain and partially blinded for a day. But even before losing half my sight I realized that finding asparagus is not simply a visual exercise, it is an exercise in context. In that overgrown thicket there are simply too many things that look like stalks of asparagus – other plants, branches, vines. You have to know where to look, the particular sides of hills, along the edges of vegetation. You have to feel where to look. Then you have to find the telltale asparaghia, the thicket of spindly, spiny ground cover that is part of the plant and from which the stalks grow. But even then it is next to impossible to see the individual stalks that reach skyward. On occasion after occasion Amadeo would call for me and point and bark out a number. “Tre,” he would say, indicating that there were three stalks in a particular location. I would look, seeing none. Hinting at the location with his snipper I would still see none until he was touching the first one. “Va bene” I would exclaim, snipping the prize and taking it for my bundle. This would be repeated two more times as my mentor pointed out each individual asparago.
But after a couple of hours your asparagus sense begins to sharpen and even the most unskilled americano becomes attuned to the woods and to where these delicious stalks of green freshness are hiding. I would not say that I ended the hunt at even the advanced beginner level, but my two large bundles of wild asparagus – the first I have ever cultivated in my life – left me looking forward to next spring, when I intend to follow Amadeo once again into the woods and into one of those adventures that makes the Italian experience so unforgettable.
Bill and Suzy
While we can’t offer you wild asparagus, Via Umbria is currently featuring fresh, local asparagus from Tuscarora Farms for sale. Pick up a bunch today, while they’re still in season and try roasting them wrapped in pancetta or prosciutto. Be sure to blanch the asparagus first and roast in an oven preheated to 425 degrees for four to six minutes (or until crispy). And enjoy! It’s one of the true treats of the season.