Stirring the Pot

Rich had to shush me and drag me away from the potluck offerings at Tot Shabbat last month. Lilli is now four and can be trusted to eat things like popcorn and cherries, but Beatrix is just two, so I winced a bit too dramatically when I saw those on the table. (Yes, I still halve their grapes and cherry tomatoes. Better safe than sorry.) And don’t get me started on the farro walnut salad. There was an incident at a neighborhood potluck where Sylvie ended up in the emergency room. Nut allergies are no joke.

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Still, there was a moment at the tables that made me smile: It was plain to see who also used Mountain View for their farm shares. It’s beet season, and the vivid pink Chioggia beets, and the sunbursts of the golden beets, dotted the salads on the table. Roasted and diced into quinoa, sliced into salad greens, beets were on full force at the potluck.

It’s also summer squash time, and today I bring you the summer squash cake I brought to Tot Shabbat. It takes minutes to pull together and is really, really tasty. Rich first thought of zucchini bread when I talked about making this cake, but this is in no way a “bread.” This is clearly a cake. A moist, sweet one, with a cream cheese frosting. Without the frosting, it’s still moist and sweet, and dairy-free.

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As you can see, the frosting in our version was pink, as per the request of Lilli. You certainly don’t need to dye yours. Confession: I overestimated how much squash to grate in our food processor, so I used the leftovers the next night to make summer squash ricotta fritters. I recommend you do the same if you also end up with too much squash.

The recipe is from the new cookbook Farm to Table Desserts by Lei Shishak, a pastry chef who trained at the Culinary Institute of America and has worked in California kitchens. The recipes in this charming book are seasonal and use produce one finds at the farmers’ market, or in my case, the CSA. It begins in the springtime when we enjoyed a very lovely mango mousse. She is a California chef, after all, so some of her fruits and vegetables are a bit more tropical than my Western Mass options. There’s also a blueberry crisp I have my eye on, and a roasted beet panna cotta with candied walnuts that is just singing to me. But first, I had to share this dead simple summer squash cake, since I’m sure you have too many summer squash in your crisper right now.

Summer Squash Cake from Farm to Table Desserts Farm to Table Desserts by Lei Shishak

Ingredients

Cake

3 large eggs

2 cups grated summer squash

1 ½ cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

Cream Cheese Frosting

3 ½ cups powdered sugar

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature

¼ unsalted butter, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Cake

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9- or 10- inch round pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, squash, sugar oil, and vanilla extract well. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until incorporated. Transfer to prepared pan and bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely.

Frosting

Sift the powdered sugar and set aside. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla on medium speed until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 30 seconds to ensure no lumps remain. Add the powdered sugar all at once and mix on low speed until sugar is just incorporated. Scrape bowl well and beat on high speed for 10 seconds.

Remove cooled cake from pan and place onto a serving platter. Cut the rounded cake top off, if desired. Spread cream cheese frosting on in a decorative design. Store cake in refrigerator.

 

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.

 

 

Dining Out, Dining In

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Dining out, for me at least, means ordering something on the menu I can’t reproduce in my own kitchen. The more I cook and bake, if in part, perhaps to keep on providing you with fresh ideas for your own table, means the list of dishes I’ll eat out grows smaller. Good for my wallet, especially with the exorbitant cost of childcare. (Seriously, you’d pass out if I told you what we spent in 2016 for our two precious girls.) There are some dishes I just can’t nail – baingan bharta, for example, is one that I will always order in a restaurant because I just can’t do it in my own kitchen. Hummus, too, I just can’t get right, although I recently heard a tip I need to try: run the food processor an extra 2 minutes, to help aerate it. We’ll see if that helps.

Chinese food is another that tends to taste better from a restaurant. But I had good luck with this Sweet and Sour Tofu-Vegetable Stir-Fry. It’s from Everyday Vegetarian: A Delicious Guide for Creating More Than 150 Meatless Dishes from the editors of Cooking Light. This recipe is exactly what you would have at the restaurant. Seriously, it’s spot-on. I’m an admitted broccoli junkie, and I freely admit to making this twice in a 4-day period. Rich, who would never willingly order tofu or request it of his own choosing, gladly ate this dish.

One of the nice features of cookbooks from magazines, like this one, is that there’s a full cadre of writers and cooks to test recipes. This cookbook has been more thoroughly vetted than the current president’s cabinet members. There are eight sections in the cookbook, plus an opening on the “Everyday Vegetarian Kitchen.” I’m looking forward to trying many of the recipes here, including Lemony Zucchini Pitas with Quick Pickled Dill Carrots and Spinach and Feta Quiche with Quinoa Crust. I have a feeling they will be as spot-on as the stir-fry.

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This week’s recipe was one of the recipes I’d accumulated during my broken computer hiatus and set aside until it was in season. Now that broccoli has arrived in this week’s CSA haul, I’m so so happy to share this one with you now.

Maybe also because it’s from a mainstream publication, they often “suggest” using ingredients like Uncle Ben’s in the Warm Brown Rice and Chickpea with Cherries and Goat Cheese, or Swanson’s when stock is needed. As I get older, short cuts in the kitchen like that make more and more sense to me, but I’ll leave what brands to use to your best judgement.

I made quite a few substitutions of my own. I never have dry sherry in the house, so I used sherry vinegar, which was a perfect substitute. I didn’t have fresh hot pepper in the house and used a pinch of red pepper flakes instead. Although the recipe calls for Broccolini, I used broccoli florets. I also skipped the carrots. I can’t stand cast-iron and never used my wok so I didn’t pack it when we moved, so I used a non-stick skillet. Yes, I am aware I spent time talking about how spot on this recipe is, then followed up by talking about the alterations I made to it. But I know the little tweaks I made wouldn’t change the flavors or texture of the recipe. And that’s what cooking is all about. It’s trickier to do that with baking, though.

Although the header notes say, This dish is mildly spicy; to make it extra kid-friendly, omit the chile from the sweet and sour sauce.” Beatrix, who at least tasted it because it was broccoli, something she will still eat, announced it was “too spicy,” and spat it out. Her loss, because this dish is fantastic.

Sweet and Sour Tofu-Vegetable Stir-Fry from Everyday Vegetarian: A Delicious Guide for Creating More Than 150 Meatless Dishes By the Editors of Cooking Light

Ingredients

1 (14-ounce) package water-packed extra-firm tofu, drained

3/4 cup water

1/3 cup rice vinegar

2 Tablespoons sugar

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 Tablespoons dry sherry (I used sherry vinegar, which was a perfect substitute.)

2 Tablespoons ketchup

2 Tablespoons finely chopped red hot chile (with seeds), such as red jalapeno or Thai chile (I used a pinch of red pepper flakes instead.)

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

1 ½ Tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce

2 Tablespoons canola oil

½ teaspoon salt

1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices

2 carrots, diagonally cut into 1/8-inch thick slices

1 (8-ounce) bunch Broccolini, cut into florets and stems cut into ½-inch pieces (I used broccoli florets.)

2 cups cooked brown rice

Directions

Place the tofu in a shallow dish. Place the paper towels on top, and weight with a cast-iron skillet or other heavy pan. Let stand 20 minutes, pressing down occasionally. Discard the liquid, and cut the tofu into 2 x ¼-inch pieces.

While the tofu stands, combine ½ cup of the water, vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir half of the garlic into the sugar mixture. Stir in the sherry, ketchup, and chile. Cook the mixture over medium heat until boiling. Remove from the heat; stir in the cornstarch, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Stir in the soy sauce.

Heat a large cast iron skillet or wok over high heat. (I used a non-stick skillet.)

Add 1 Tablespoon of the oil swirl to coat. Add the tofu in an even layer; cook, without stirring, 2 minutes. Turn the tofu; cook 2 minutes. Place on a plate; sprinkle with the salt.

Add 1 teaspoon of the oil to the pan; swirl to coat. Add the bell pepper; stir-fry 2 minutes. Add the remaining garlic; stir-fry 10 to 20 seconds. Remove to the plate with the tofu. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oil to the pan; swirl to coat. Add the carrots; stir-fry 1 minute. Add the Broccolini; stir-fry 3 minutes or until the water evaporates. Return the tofu mixture to the pan. Add the sauce mixture; stir to coat. Place the rice on each of 4 plates. Place the tofu mixture over the rice.

 

 

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”.