Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Asparagus Pasta Salad with Saffron Vinaigrette

Let true Spring begin ... asparagus has long been the herald of this new season, along with the first tender stalks of rhubarb. This salad was quite interesting and satisfying, and its preparation was greatly speeded by help from my Mom with chopping, tending, and chive picking chores. It only needed a small salmon fillet alongside, and some of the tender, crisp CSA radishes to make a superb meal.

Update: This salad is even better the day after it is made; the flavors are stronger throughout. If you make it ahead, wait to add the goat cheese and pine nuts on top just before serving.
Adapted from several online versions; original from The Taste of Summer by Diane Worthington

1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons cream (optional)

1 pound pasta (original used orzo; I used penne. Most shapes will work fine.)

1 pound (weighed after trimming) thin CSA asparagus, trimmed, and cut into segments about the same size as pasta you use

1/3 cup chopped chives; garnish with blossoms if available

4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Make vinaigrette:

Combine vinegar and saffron in small saucepan. Bring JUST to a simmer over gentle heat; remove from heat and cool.

Smash garlic clove with salt with mortar and pestle to make a paste. Place paste in large bowl with the cooled vinegar mixture, lemon juice, mustard and cream. Whisk in olive oil. Taste; if too tangy, add a bit of sweetener or more cream.

Cook pasta and asparagus:

In large pot, heat salted water to boiling and add pasta. Cook according to package directions; just before removing pasta from heat, add asparagus pieces for about 30 seconds. Drain all in a colander, make sure water is removed completely, and pour into the bowl containing the dressing.

Toss a few times, add in chives, and mix well. Let sit 30 minutes before serving, tossing occasionally. To serve, top each serving with crumbled goat cheese and toasted pine nuts. Serve warm or at room temperature. To serve leftovers, reheat gently in skillet.

Makes 6 to 8 generous servings.

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