A colorful salad and its colorful creator

By TINKY WEISBLAT

For the Recorder

Published: 05-23-2023 2:39 PM

I rejoice that local asparagus is with us once more. Asparagus is my favorite vegetable bar none. I love it so much that I purchase asparagus even in the winter, when it comes from far away.

Even so, each spring when our local asparagus comes into season, I am astonished anew at how tender and flavorful it is.

I’m not the only one in my household who loves it. If I carelessly leave spears cooling in a colander in the sink, my cat Rhubarb fishes them out one at a time for a snack.

We are lucky enough to live in one of the asparagus capitals of the world.

Those of us who grow it in our gardens or live near farm stands can eat it on the day on which it was picked. I feel that it is my duty as a food lover to consume asparagus every single day when it is in season.

Most days, I just boil or steam it or use leftover spears in a green salad. It really doesn’t need a lot of additional flavors to stand out. Sometimes, however (particularly since I’m supposed to be generating content for this newspaper!), I feel impelled to include it in a formal recipe.

The recipe I’m sharing today came originally from my late neighbor, FloretteZuelke. Florette was a glamorous figure here in Pudding Hollow. She was a fashionista, a gourmet cook and an avid gardener. She was also eccentric. By eccentric, I mean difficult. More on that later.

Florette’s vegetable garden, like its creator, was decorative as well as useful. It was round; the beds formed concentric circles, and flowers were interspersed among the vegetables to make the garden even more beautiful.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Greenfield restaurant to be featured on America’s Best Restaurants
Where the food is smokin’ good: Crazy Horse Bar and Grill in Charlemont serves up pub food and more with flair
Greenfield’s Asa Bouchard competing for Team USA in Prospects by Sports Illustrated Hockey World Cup
GCC union votes ‘no confidence’ in president, provost
Retired Montague officer, state trooper commended for 2022 fire response
Franklin Tech hires aviation instructor

Florette shared my love of asparagus and included it among her plantings. I don’t recall whether she first served me this salad with asparagus. Serve it she did, however, at least 30 years ago.

She could very well have used snap peas, green beans, raw zucchini or broccoli. (I hope readers will feel free to do that as well as the seasons progress!) She picked what was in season and cooked with it.

I can’t promise you that this salad is exactly the way Florette made it. She didn’t give me the recipe; I just tasted her version and tried to replicate it. And I have probably adapted the recipe over the years, as I tend to do.

Nevertheless, when I make it I always think of Florette. She was my mentor in many things related to agriculture and horticulture, particularly rhubarb. And she had a personality that begged to be savored… although sometimes in small doses.

She had very strong opinions, not just about food and fashion but also about what all of her friends and neighbors should do with their lives, and about the proper way to perform any task. She was seldom tactful in sharing those opinions.

One evening several of us arrived to her home for dinner a few minutes late only to discover that she hadn’t started any food preparation. (This was not unusual; Florette was seldom punctual.) Naturally, we offered to help. She immediately began to critique our culinary technique.

She scathingly informed me, for example, that although I was correct in slicing a vegetable on the bias, the exact angle of the knife was incorrect.

I told her that I was happy to help but suggested firmly that she should refrain from micromanaging her helpers and try instead to be grateful for them.

She stopped carping… but only for a few minutes.

Despite her difficulties, which only increased as she aged, I treasure my memories of Florette. She brought color and flavor to our neighborhood, literally and figuratively. And although her opinions could be, and were, maddening, they often contained a kernel of truth.

Florette’s Round Garden Pasta Salad with Asparagus

I specify 2 cups of asparagus pieces here, but I often use more. After all, there’s no such thing as too much asparagus at this time of year! Actually, I often add more olives and feta as well.

Ingredients:

for the salad:

1 pound bow-tie pasta (or the shape of your choice)

2 cups fresh asparagus cut in 1-inch pieces, boiled for about 2 minutes and then cooled in a colander with ice cubes

1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, cut into small pieces

30 Greek olives, pitted and halved

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

for the dressing:

4 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 splash of water

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish

1/2 teaspoon dried or 1 teaspoon fresh oregano or basil

ground pepper

10 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Instructions:

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package, making sure that it is not too well done; al dente is preferred. While the pasta is boiling, you may cook the asparagus, cut up the bell pepper, and assemble the ingredients for the dressing in a jar.

Drain the pasta, adding ice cubes to it while in the colander to cool it quickly.

When the ice cubes have melted, combine the pasta in a large bowl with the asparagus and pepper pieces. Shake the dressing and pour about half onto the salad, mixing well.

Chill the mixture for at least a couple of hours. Taste it to see how flavorful and moist it is; chances are you will want to add more dressing at this point. (If you don’t use all of the dressing, don’t worry; it’s delicious on a green salad.)

Toss in the olives and feta cheese and mix thoroughly. Chill again for an hour or two, stir once more, throw a bit more chopped parsley over all and serve.

Serves 10 to 12. This salad may be halved for a smaller group.

To watch me make this salad, visit https://bit.ly/42PBzcR.

Tinky Weisblat is an award-winning author and singer. Her most recent book is “Pot Luck: Random Acts of Cooking.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.

]]>