In warmer months when our local farmers’ market is open, I love browsing the selections for what’s plump and fresh. If you start with the best produce, you don’t have to do much to make the meal you prepare with it stand out. I’m especially crazy for fresh black-eyed peas and those wonderful heirloom tomatoes that put the grocery store’s offerings to shame. (Green zebra, brandywine and yellow pear are my favorites.) If you’re a gardener with a plot in the yard, this is the time of year you start to feel downright wealthy.
The Culinary Institute of America, the venerable cooking school that has been turning out chefs for more than 60 years, recently published a cookbook simply called Vegetables. The more than 170 recipes in the book highlight preparations for fresh vegetables from soup to pickling. In an extensive “Vegetables 101” section, you can learn about selecting the best vegetables (eggplants should have firm, glossy skin and unwilted leaves), storing fresh produce (yellow squash should be kept in the refrigerator for four to five days) and special techniques for vegetable cookery. Here is a fantastic recipe from the book.
Chilled Asparagus With Mustard Herb Vinaigrette
2 pounds asparagus
2 tablespoons white wine or cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon chopped tarragon leaves
Salt and pepper as needed
Dash onion powder
Dash garlic powder
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil.
Trim the asparagus to remove the white, fibrous ends. Cut the asparagus into 2-inch pieces on the diagonal.
Add the asparagus to the boiling water and cook until the spears are bright green and just tender, 4-5 minutes. (If necessary, cook the asparagus in batches.) Drain the asparagus in a colander and rinse with cold water until the asparagus is chilled. The asparagus is ready to dress and serve now, or it can be held in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 6 hours.
To make the vinaigrette, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, parsley, tarragon, salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder until blended. Add the oil to the vinegar mixture in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.
Toss the chilled asparagus with the vinaigrette or pass it separately on the side. Serve immediately on a chilled platter or plates.