For dinner yesterday, we made this salad from Discover California Wines, the consumer website of the Wine Institute. Its focus is recipes with wine pairings.
This asparagus salad recipe (photo #1) reminded us to have as much asparagus as we can while it’s in season.
In some parts of the country asparagus is in the market as early as February. April is the peak month for harvesting, and June marks the end of the season.
There always seems to be asparagus in stores, because customers demand it. But out-of-season, the asparagus travels from Chile and Peru, and the extra travel time means less fresh asparagus (less fresh = less flavor).
This salad proclaims springtime. Pick up a rotisserie chicken and dinner is ready to go in 10 minutes. The fun here is that you shave the asparagus: a delightful visual and texture.
It’s also an opportunity to get to know ricotta salata cheese (photo #2—there’s more about the cheese below).
The dressing is perked up with Vietnamese fish sauce, nuoc cham, which adds umami flavor. Thailand’s prik nam pla is a similar fish sauce.
There are many uses for fish sauce in everyday cuisine. Check out some uses below.
But if you don’t have fish sauce and don’t want to buy it, substitute soy sauce, tamari, oyster sauce or Worcestershire sauce.
If you’re a from-scratch cook, you can make your own nuoc cham from scratch.
RECIPE: ASPARAGUS SALAD WITH RICOTTA SALATA
Discover California Wines recommends a pairing of Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc.
Ingredients For 4 Servings
For The Dressing
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon Vietnamese fish sauce
1 small clove garlic, very finely minced or grated
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ pound (250 g) thick asparagus spears (weight after trimming)
3 ounces (90 g) baby arugula
Chunk of ricotta salata cheese (photo #2—substitute feta)
Optional: roast chicken (or if you have it, sliced lamb)
For The Salad
1. MAKE the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, fish sauce and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
2. SHAVE the asparagus, one spear at a time. Lay the spear flat on a work surface and shave it lengthwise into thin ribbons with a sharp vegetable peeler.
3. PLACE the asparagus in a salad bowl with the arugula. With a cheese plane or vegetable peeler, shave 3 ounces (90 g) of cheese—or as much as you like—into the bowl.
4. ADD enough dressing to coat the salad lightly; you may not need it all. Toss gently, taste for seasoning, and serve immediately.
WHAT IS RICOTTA SALATA?
Ricotta salata (photo #2)is a firm Italian cheese with a mildly salty flavor. (If you can’t find it, substitute feta.)
It’s a table cheese—a term used for any cheese that can multitask: grated, shaved or sliced in appetizers, soups garnishes, salads, as part of the main course and a dessert with fruit.
Most people are familiar with the fresh, soft form of ricotta. But as a fresh cheese, ricotta has a limited shelf life.
Long ago, to extend its life, the fresh ricotta was salted, baked and smoked. Today the pressed, salted, dried and aged version of ricotta is known as ricotta salata (salted ricotta).
The cheese, made in wheels, is milky-white and firm. In addition to salads, grate it over potatoes, rice, soups and grilled vegetables.
USES FOR VIETNAMESE FISH SAUCE, NUOC CHAM
In addition to other Asian dishes like pad thai, fish sauce can be used in:
Cocktails: Use fish sauce as a replacement for Worcestershire sauce in Bloody Marys.
Dipping sauce: Use it as a simple dipping sauce.
Grilled meats: Add it to a marinade for beef or chicken.
Stir-frys: Use it instead of soy sauce or salt.
Vegetables: Drizzle it over Brussels sprouts or broccoli before roasting.
*According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, approximately 502.4 million pounds of fresh asparagus was imported in 2017, mostly from Mexico, Peru and Chile. The value of the 2017 U.S. commercial asparagus crop was approximately $73.1 million.