The Mighty Eggplant

 

Israeli food is having a moment. There, yes, but also here. There is (or was) James Beard award winner, Shaya, in New Orleans, the Tatte empire in Boston, not to mention Einat Admony in New York City. And of course, across the pond, Ottolenghi. But maybe the biggest name in American-Israeli food right now is Philadelphia’s Michael Solomonov. Rich and I have been following him since we went to Zahav back in 2010. When we went to Philadelphia for vacation this summer, we ate at his hummus bar Dizengoff with Sylvie and Miriam and Leo, after watching the eclipse at the Franklin Institute. And we brought pretty much everything on the Federal Donuts’ menu to my dear friend Carly’s in the Philly suburbs. (Rich lost his mind when he discovered that she lives three blocks from Tired Hands brewery.)

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So when I read that Solomonov had a documentary about Israeli cuisine on Netflix, it zoomed to the top of our watch list. (Yes, even over the new season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; don’t worry, we’re caught up.) But the documentary, In Search of Israeli Food, is Solomonov’s very personal tour of Israeli cuisine. He visits some of the big chefs, farmers, and producers in Israeli food now. It also had a fair amount about the history of Israeli food, which we found fascinating.

One of the debates among the talking heads near the beginning of the movie was, is there even such a thing as an Israeli cuisine? The country, after all, is only 65 years old, and over that time it’s been melding together the existing cuisines of the region with everything that the Jewish diaspora brought back as they migrated there: from Sephardi nations like Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Yemen to Ashkenazi Central and Eastern Europe.

The film does a good job of covering all these different strands, although we detected a preference for super-local approach of the chefs featured early in the documentary. But having eaten at Solomonov’s restaurants, it was very interesting to see the original influences that he is referring back to.

There’s a great scene where Solomonov visits an established Israeli chef at home, who starts charring an eggplant on a burner almost as soon they come into his kitchen. “It seems like so many Israeli recipes start with a burnt eggplant,” Solomonov quips.

Which brings us to this week’s recipe: I think I have finally created the creamy baba ganoush of my dreams, I think you still know what I’m talking about. Smoky, creamy, thick with tahini, it’s all there, and it’s exciting for me considering I’m still not happy with my hummus. The source is Gil Marks, considered by many to be the godfather of the history of Jewish cooking. When we lived in Boston, Marks gave a lecture at our synagogue and I missed it. Not more than a year later he passed away. One of my biggest regrets is not going to hear him talk.

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My favorite baba of all time was sold at a place at 69th and Jewel in Queens, and this is as close as I’ve come in my home kitchen to making it. It’s a far cry from when I tried making it in my parents’ kitchen when I was 12 years old. I added 6 heads of garlic, rather than 6 cloves.

This version takes a while, but nearly all of it is hands-off time. You have to roast the eggplants for a good chunk of time in a hot, hot oven, and then you have to drain the flesh in a colander for another half hour. I tend to steam roast some beets while I do the eggplant. That way I feel accomplished while having done very little.

About this recipe: Marks explains the Indian eggplant was introduced the Middle East by the Persians about 4th Century CE. It then traveled through Europe into Russia and Ukraine. Versions of this eggplant salad also have made their way into ikra (vegetable caviar in the Baltics), salata batinjan and caviar d’aubergines (eggplant cavier) in the Middle East. They are common from India to Morocco. The most famous variation is the Lebanese baba ghanouj – baba is the Arabic word for “Father” as well as a term of endearment; ghanouj means “indulged.” (And who isn’t thinking about Skinny Legs and All right now?) I borrow the tahini from this version and add it to the Israeli version, and it makes me so happy.

We’re still getting eggplants in our weekly CSA and I can’t stop making this dish. Ours are small, so I usually roast four at a time, rather than the two that Marks calls for. I suggest making this, finding some good pita, and snacking on it while you watch the Solomonov documentary.

Israeli Eggplant Spread (Salat Chatzilim) from Gil Marks’ Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World

Ingredients

2 eggplants

About ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

3 to 4 garlic cloves

2 to 4 Tablespoons tahini

1 ¼ teaspoons table salt or 2 teaspoons kosher salt

Ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Roast the eggplant by placing them on a baking sheet and slide them into a preheated 400F oven until very tender, about 50 minutes. Let stand long enough so that you can handle. Peel the eggplant, being careful not to leave any skin. Place in a colander and let drain for about 30 minutes. Coarsely chop on a cutting board; do not puree.

Using the tip of a heavy knife or with a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic and salt into a paste. In a medium bowl combine all the ingredients. Let stand at room temperature to allow the flavors to meld, or refrigerate for up to 3 days. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.

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Home on the Range

According to the Internet and her book jacket, Shannon Stonger and her husband have five children, various farm animals and live off the grid on their five-acre homestead in Texas. I want that to sink in for just a second. This woman has five children and somehow managed to write a cookbook. A good one, I might add.

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I have two little girls and live very much on the grid, and I can barely get up three paragraphs once a week on this blog. How she found the time to sit and write a book is blowing my mind right now.

When her book Traditionally Fermented Foods arrived in the mail in late May, I honed in on the kimchi, or, as she puts it, “Homestead ‘Chi”. Most everything I needed for it was in the CSA: cabbage, turnips, and green onions. All that was left to add was garlic, spice, and time, and I’d eventually have kimchi.

And, oh, how I tended to my kimchi. For the first week I had to “burp” the built-up gases nightly, by quickly opening and shutting the cap. It gave the most satisfying little exhale. Of course, this was pre-snake, back when I would go down to the basement.

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The ‘chi rested for about a month and a half in two large jars at the bottom of the stairs. I’d fashioned the fermentation weights with stones I found outside and wrapped in cheesecloth. I know they sell special weights in kitchen stores, but I encourage you to improvise as well.

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And while your kimchi ferments, there’s much, much more in the book to try.  A sourdough section, kombucha, and a dairy section with kefir and sour cream.

We’ve stirred our kimchi into leftover brown rice and topped it with a scallion salad and fried egg for a meal.  I tucked some of it into a grilled cheese sandwich on Sunday night and it was PHENOMENAL. It’s become a go-to condiment in our house, right next to the ketchup, mustard and sriracha.

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To prep the jars, wash them in very hot soapy water. Do not dry the washed bottles or jars, but put them upright on a baking sheet, about 2 inches apart, and put in the oven. Turn on the heat to 350F and once the oven has reached this temperature, leave the bottles or jars in the oven for 20 minutes to ensure they are completely sterilized. Wear protective oven mitts when handling hot bottles and jars.

Homestead ‘Chi from Traditionally Fermented Foods by Shannon Stonger

Ingredients

2 medium heads green cabbage

2 large (softball-size) turnips, grated

12 green onions, chopped roughly

8 large garlic cloves, minced

3-4 tbsp (45-60 g) salt (4 tbsp [60g] only if temperatures exceed 80F (27C])

3 tbsp (22g) ground sweet paprika

1-2 tbsp (2-4g) red pepper flakes or 1/4 -1/2 cup (43-85) diced hot peppers

Directions

Shred the cabbage thinly using a knife and cutting board or mandolin. Add the cabbage and all remaining ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Mix well with hands to combine. Pound the cabbage with a mallet or potato masher to release the juices. Alternatively, allow to sit, covered for 1 hour to allow the juices to be released.

Pack kimchi tightly in a half-gallon (2-L)-size jar or 2 quart (1-L)-size jars, leaving at least 2 inches (50mm) of headspace. Add the fermentation weight of your choosing. Check that the brine is above the level of the fermentation weight. If not, mix 1 cup (236ml) of water with 1 ½ teaspoons (8g) of salt and pour this brine into the jar until the fermentation weight is completely covered.

Place at cool room temperature (60 to 80F [16 to 27C], optimally) and allow to ferment for at least three weeks. If you haven’t used an airlock, then during this period, especially during the first 5 to 7 days, you will need to burp the jars by quickly opening them to release the built-up gases that result from the fermentation. To do so, carefully and quickly open the jar, listen for the release of gas and close jar back up with just a bit of the gases still remaining inside.

This ferment pairs wonderfully with eggs, beans and salads, and makes a delicious spread when mixed with soft cheese.

 

 

 

Change of Schedule

I truly thought my next post was going to be about fruit, or the next few posts, when I really think about it. With three sour cherry trees out back, countless blueberry bushes, and brambles of thick black raspberry bushes, a fruit post only made sense.

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But life moves pretty fast. Tonight I texted Rich, “I hope you’ll be home any minute, because dinner is amazing and I’m worried there won’t be any left by the time you get home.” I thought it best to share the dish with you all, if only so I have a record to go back to.

The dish in question is Radishes with Tonnato, Sunflower Seeds, and Lemon. It’s from Joshua McFadden’s Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables, a book I’d read about and finally got from the library last week. When I saw this recipe, I knew it was a keeper. Honestly, this whole book is a keeper. I was on page 46 out of 396 when I remarked out loud, to no one in particular, that I thought I was going to need to actually purchase this book, rather than keep it out until the library hunted me down. I still have to make the Caper Raisin Vinaigrette, and since I’ve already earmarked this week’s CSA summer squash for a summer squash cake for Tot Shabbat, the Squash and “Tuna Melt” Casserole will have to wait until next week.

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Today’s recipe is technically in the Spring section, even though I think we are now in Midsummer. But considering that asparagus keeps growing in my front yard, I think I get a pass. Tonnato is a tuna sauce, and here it’s spiked with fresh lemon, then tossed with fresh radishes and toasted sunflowers. The recipe also calls for a small handful of fresh mint. I didn’t have any on hand, but I’m thrilled with the dish, as is.

I’m a tuna fanatic, be it on a bed of sushi rice or mashed with mayo in a salad with celery, bread and butter pickles and handfuls of fresh herbs, but this here might be my new favorite way to enjoy it. Last year I’d gotten into buying tuna in oil, to toss with fresh pasta and chopped olives and capers, so I’d had a can in the house. Although the basic tonnato recipe calls for two cans of tuna, the radish salad says to use half the recipe, so the one can I had on hand was perfect.

I served this alongside this fresh cherry and herb salad. I actually couldn’t find the hot pepper I swore I had in my crisper, so I used a pinch of Aleppo pepper in its place. The whole dinner felt fresh and amazing — the first of many to come with all the fresh fruits and veggies coming my way.

Radishes with Tonnato, Sunflower Seeds, and Lemon by Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden

Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side

Ingredients

½ recipe Tonnato (to follow)

Juice of ½ lemon

2 bunches radishes, greens trimmed off and reserved for another dish, radishes halved or quartered

1 small handful of mint leaves

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup sunflower seeds, lightly toasted

1 small handful sunflower sprouts, optional

Directions

Put the tonnato in a large bowl, squeeze in a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice, and stir to mix. Add the radishes and toss to coat.

Add the mint and season well with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust with more salt, pepper or lemon juice.

Add half the sunflower seeds and sprouts (if using). Toss, then top with remaining seeds and sprouts. Serve soon.

Tonnato

Makes about 1 ½ cups

Two 5-ounce cans oil-packed tuna, drained

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

About 1/3 cup good quality mayonnaise (such as Hellmann’s or Best Foods)

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

About 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Directions

Put the tuna and salt in a food processor and pulse until it’s blended. Add 1/3 cup mayonnaise and pulse until the ingredients are getting creamy. With the processor running, drizzle in the olive oil and lemon juice and process until the tonnato is very smooth and creamy.

Taste and add more mayonnaise, olive oil, lemon juice, or salt. Store in the fridge for up to 1 week.

More Ways to Use It:

Use as a dip for any raw, grilled or roasted vegetables.

Spread of slices of veal.

Thin it out with more lemon juice and toss with boiled and smashed new potatoes or add it to a romaine salad.

Spoon it on bread and top it with Soft-Cooked Eggs, tomatoes and capers.

Use it in a charred broccoli dish.

 

 

Purple Balloons and Pickled Onions

And then in a blink of an eye, my baby turned two! For Beatrix Louise’s second birthday party we filled the playroom with two dozen purple balloons to match the purple balloons on the invitation, and set up tables topped with play dough and oodles of stickers. I served the kids pizza and a massive pot of boxed macaroni and cheese.

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My father came in from Jerusalem to see his grandchildren. So, in addition to Bea’s friends and family, we also had over some of our older relatives, including Aunt Sydney, who I’ve mentioned is basically our grande doyenne when it comes to food. Although my cousins assured me I could definitely serve her pizza, I took this as an opportunity to make a spread worthy of a small bat mitzvah. We had:

It was from his weekly column in The Guardian; this one focused on quick pickled onions. I actually didn’t use his pickled onion recipe – I love my own too much to cheat on it – but followed the rest of his recipe, coated with allspice and sugar, roasted, and topped with cilantro lime salsa and goat cheese. I kept the almonds on the side, as per Aleza and Sylvie’s suggestion. Nut allergies are no joke.

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The amount of cilantro salsa is small, and he recommends doing it in a spice grinder. My own grinder – a coffee grinder I picked up for $15 at Ocean State Job Lot years ago – is used so much for cumin that it reeks of the spice. To clean it, I used a trick I just read about (but can’t for the life of me remember where): grind up a piece of bread. And it worked!

For dessert we made a Princess Leia cake, per the birthday girl’s request, plus the frozen banana peanut butter pie, and Needhams, a chocolate-coconut treat from Maine that’s a little bit like a Mounds Bar. But that’s another recipe for another day. Definitely before the third birthday!

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Roast sweet potatoes with pickled onions, coriander and goat’s cheese

Ingredients

Pickled Onions
2 tsp sugar
Salt and black pepper
5-6 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into roughly 5cm x 3cm chunks
1/3 cup olive oil
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ cup cilantro leaves
¾ cup soft mild rindless goat’s cheese, broken into rough 2cm pieces
1/3 cup roasted salted almonds, coarsely chopped

Directions

Heat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. In a large bowl, combine the sweet potatoes with three tablespoons of oil, the allspice, the two teaspoons of sugar, half a teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. Transfer to a large oven tray lined with parchment paper, and make sure the sweet potato chunks are spaced apart. Roast for 20 minutes, until crisp and golden-brown, then toss in any oil left on the tray and leave to cool.

While the sweet potatoes are cooking, blitz the coriander [cilantro], grated lime zest, the remaining three tablespoons of oil and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt to a smooth, bright green salsa. Use a spice grinder to do this (don’t use a food processor – the quantities involved are too small); if you don’t have one, very finely chop the coriander and mix the salsa by hand.

Once the sweet potatoes have cooled, arrange them on a platter and dot evenly with the pieces of cheese. Drain the pickled onions, and scatter on top. Finish with a drizzle of salsa and a sprinkle of almonds.

 

Rah Rah Radishes

Our CSA started last week! Unlike in Boston, where Lilli and I drove to the Whole Foods parking lot to pick up our share, now we go to the actual farm in Easthampton to choose our goodies. But even better is the pick-your-own part of the expedition, where you head out to the field with a pair of scissors and cut your own flowers (five floppy orange calendula, this week) and herbs (thyme, oregano and sage) – no limit on that, simply the amount you know you will use that week.20170609_133815.jpg

With so much of the area covered by farms, CSAs are extremely common around here. We went with Mountain View, which I found after some… Googling. (Sorry, Rich is leaning into the dad jokes of late.) Actually, it came recommended by many folks, and it’s won the “Best of” award from one of the local papers for half a dozen years in a row. That’s right, we have so many CSAs that we have an entire “Best of” category covering them. One of the parents from Bea’s daycare remarked that CSAs around here are what people do instead of country clubs. I found that to be a very apt description – minus the blatant discrimination against my kind and others, of course.

We made it to the farm before the start of the weekend, so now our fridge is brimming with lettuces, kale, scallions, and radishes. I “gifted” the bok choy to my cousin Roz; it’s one of the few vegetables I actively don’t care for – too mustardy for me. That’s how I used to feel about radishes, too. As I’ve mentioned, I called them “killer radishes” when I was a little girl. But I had a wonderful moment with them in Jerusalem the spring I turned 21 and have been a convert, nay, a radish evangelist, ever since.

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I got two bunches of radishes, and the magenta orbs found their way on top of a platter of sesame noodles. Tonight we’re having them in Deb’s kale salad, which features dried cherries, pecans, goat cheese, and a honeyed dressing. But today’s recipe is my go-to of late, from Julia Turshen’s Small Victories. She has you roast the radishes and drizzle a dressing of Kalamata olives on top. Roasting does absolutely magical things to radishes – it softens them and completely removes their peppery bite in the process. As Turshen points out, this recipe is vegan, and the dressing works well on many things, including less-than-vegan dishes like goat cheese or on grilled chicken or fish.

The “small victory” here is all about cooking vegetables that are almost always served raw. She suggests spin off recipes, including stir frying iceberg lettuce with finely peeled ginger, garlic and fresh chile, and topping it with soy sauce and fish sauce; braising celery with a few minced garlic cloves and a couple of anchovies, then drizzling with high-quality olive oil and a few squeezes of lemon juice; and endive and radicchio, cut into wedges, coated with olive oil and salt, seared on a hot grill, and finished with wedges of lemon.

But for now, it’s radishes. We’ll see what we get from Mountain View next week!

Roasted Radishes with Kalamata Dressing from Small Victories by Julia Turshen

Ingredients

1 ½ lb. (680) radishes, split lengthwise (it’s ok to leave a little of the stem)

5 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

1 small garlic clove, minced

1 Tbsp sherry vinegar

12 pitted Kalamata olives (or other dark olives), finely chopped

1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh Italian parsley or chives or 1 tsp finely chopped oregano

Directions

Preheat your oven to 425F (220C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Put the radishes on the prepared baking sheet, drizzle with 2 Tbsp of the olive oil, sprinkle with a large pinch of salt, and use your hands to toss everything together. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the radishes are tender and browned, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the garlic, a large pinch of salt and the vinegar in a small bowl and let them sit and get to know each other for 10 minutes (this quick-pickle moment will tame the bite of the garlic and also infuse the vinegar with the garlic.) Slowly whisk in the remaining 3 Tbsp olive oil and stir in the olives.

Transfer the roasted radishes to a serving platter, spoon over the olive dressing, and scatter over the parsley. Serve immediately.

Bitter Herb

I’m tempted to start a new category on the blog: what to do with your leftover x that you bought for Passover and is still in your fridge a month and a half later. This year it was the fresh horseradish that my family always uses. Think E.T. but with a mop of curly green hair. It gets grated into the jarred stuff that is served alongside a few pieces of gefilte fish at a Saturday morning kiddush.

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The thing about the horseradish is that I can’t stand it. That entire category of foods doesn’t agree with me (Why would you ruin sushi with wasabi? And you do realize they make poison from mustard?) I debated just tossing the offending root in the trash, but that seemed like a waste. So I went to my cookbooks.

Luckily, it only took five minutes of searching until I was reading a pickled beets recipe that calls for fresh horseradish. It’s from Deborah Madison’s terrific cookbook, America: The Vegetarian Table, a book which has served me well in the past, but which I hadn’t opened in years.

The recipe calls for two tablespoons of coarsely grated fresh horseradish, which I toned down to about a teaspoon and a half. And honestly, the recipe really did benefit from the root. It gave it a little heat and was a great counter balance to the warm spices: brown sugar, fresh nutmeg, fresh ginger and whole cloves.

Madison points out that tiny garden beets, about the size of “large marbles,” are prettiest in this recipe. I used what was in my fridge, which were large ones. I simply peeled them, cut them into smaller pieces and steamed them before the pickling.

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I’ve served these alongside whatever we’re having for dinner: quinoa with arugula stirred into it; arugula sautéed with tons of garlic, strips of fresh red pepper and finished with golden raisins; roasted carrots topped with fresh dill; chunks of fresh avocado; eggs, boiled hard but with jammy yolks. Or, just grab a fork and the jar and have yourself an afternoon snack.

Pickled Beets from Deborah Madison’s America: The Vegetarian Table

Ingredients

About 3 cups of beets (20 small beets)

1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar

1 cup water

1/2 cup white or brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 scant teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 ounce fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into strips

Up to 2 Tablespoons coarsely grated fresh horseradish

7 whole cloves

Directions

Trim the beets, leaving on ½ inch of their stems, and scrub them well. Or, peel and cut larger beets into 2-inch pieces. Steam them until tender but still a little firm, about 15 minutes. Let the beets cool. If the skins are tender looking and free of roots or coarse patches, leave them unpeeled; otherwise, peel them. Fit them into a clean quart jar.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a nonreactive saucepan and bring them to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the beets, immersing them fully, Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator. They are best served after sitting for at least a day and will keep for one to two months.

 

 

Little Monsters

So so sorry for disappearing, especially after promising you all sorts of Passover recipes and Passover cookbook reviews. My little girls, blessings in my life, destroyed my laptop. It was a combination of spilled chocolate milk and frustrated little fists banging away on the keyboard. Little Monsters. (They are huge Lady Gaga fans, so it’s OK that I call them that.)

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But thanks to having an April birthday and generous family members, I bought a refurbished laptop at the computer shop in town. I even had a coupon. Rich was chagrined to discover it doesn’t have a camera, although I’m pleased that it has a disc drive, something we now know is hard to come by in newer laptops. It’s a very basic machine. To put it in perspective, we spent more on our cat today than on my “new” computer. (It was a very expensive day.)

But now it’s May, and just like everyone said would happen, the asparagus popped in my front yard — right on schedule, just as April ended and May began. We technically live in “Asparagus Valley,” which means it’s all over menus in the area, and people start complaining about there being too much of it. I personally can’t fathom there being “too much asparagus,” just as I was secretly pleased when a colleague started to complain about the rhubarb taking over her yard. (She’s bringing some in for me. Will report back with a recipe as soon as that happens.)

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But yes, I have my favorite asparagus recipe for you, but first I do want to mention the terrific pickled beets in my fridge which I’m looking forward to telling you about. Soon, my friends. Soon.

We saw this recipe on Anne Burrell’s Secrets of a Restaurant Chef what seems like a million years ago. It’s very simple to make — all you need is a sharp knife and a few ingredients: asparagus, red onion, pecorino, a touch of extra-virgin olive oil.

The key is to go small. The asparagus is raw, so it needs to be cut into very thin coins — think a couple nickels stacked. The red onion is also a teensy, teensy dice — centimeters, not inches. Once everything is cut, you need about an hour for the flavors to mingle.

Asparagus, Pecorino and Red Onion Salad by Anne Burrell

Ingredients
1 bunch pencil asparagus, tough bottoms stems removed
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 cup coarsely grated pecorino
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

Directions
Slice the asparagus, including the tips, into very thin slices crosswise and place in a medium bowl.

Add the red onion and pecorino and toss to combine.

Dress with the vinegar, olive oil and salt and toss again. This salad should be fairly heavily dressed. The vinegar will sort of “cook” or tenderize the asparagus.

It is best to do this about an hour or so in advance to let the flavors “marry”.