Monday, May 7, 2012

Fresh Asparagus Salad with Buratta, Pancetta, Pine Nuts, Raisins and Bread Crumbs and Tiny Tomatoes

The Creamy Burrata is completely hidden under the Asparagus

The Bounty of the Comfort Family Farm on
Lumber Lane in Bridgehampton starts
with their first Asparagus crop of the season.
         The first Asparagus of the season arrived last weekend out in Bridgehampton. I was driving along past one of the farm stands we go to all summer, when I saw the first spears standing totally alone on what is usually a cart laden with produce. As you can see in this Fall picture, the Comfort Family’s farm grows all kinds of good things. But there are few things in life I look forward to more than the arrival of those first tender shoots of asparagus.  The delicious flavor of the vegetable is matched by the glorious green color it takes on when cooked.  We’ll have plenty of it for the next month. And then it will disappear until next Spring.  I’ll buy it in the off-season but those spears will pale when compared to the delicious fresh flavor of the local stuff.  Now, how to make it a whole meal?  A complete dinner for two?  It was actually very easy.
The Comfort's Asparagus comes tied with twine.
Nice Touch!
         I had a beautiful big boule of Buratta cheese from my foray into Little Italy.  I had some very fresh, ripe cherry and grape tomatoes.  That little bit of acidity is perfect foil for the fresh asparagus and the ultra-rich creaminess of the Buratta.  And how could I resist not tossing some diced pancetta into the mix?  (By the way, if you choose to make this meatless, you can omit the pancetta…poor you.)  I could have stopped there but rooting around for a recipe, I came across the suggestion of using a well-known combination of Sicilian ingredients to round the whole dish out.  The three additions are very familiar to Chewing the Fat regulars and I apologize to you for having used them very recently in the Pork cutlet recipe I posted a week ago.  But the trio—pine nuts, golden raisins and sautéed bread crumbs--added some great notes to the salad I was building.  The pine nuts gave it some crunch, the raisins some sweetness and the bread crumbs, quickly sautéed in the pancetta pan, were crisp and flavorful.  I had my salad which I served with toasted Ciabatta.  And you can too.  Here’s the recipe for two.  You can easily scale this up for 4 or 6.

8 oz. of spring asparagus per person
1 cup of cherry or grape or a mixture of both, halved.
1 4 oz. package of diced pancetta
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 tablespoons pine nuts
¼ cup of breadcrumbs
1/4 cup best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
1 8 oz. ball of Buratta
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

1. Soak the golden raisins or sultanas in enough warm water to cover for at least 5 minutes. Drain the plumped fruit and pat dry.
2. Normally, I have no issue with lopping off the bottom two inches of asparagus.  But with this first taste of the season, I got all out by snapping off the woody ends off the asparagus spears. There’s a natural breaking point that makes this easy to do.  And then I peel the bottom two inches.  Somehow, it makes the vegetable look like it’s more highly prized so it’s worth taking the time to do. 
3. After prepping the asparagus, fill a large bowl halfway with ice water. Bring a pot filled with plenty of highly salted water to a boil. The salt will assure that your asparagus stays very green.  Plunge the asparagus into the boiling water and cook just until the spears are tender and barely beginning to give when pinched where the tip begins, 2 to 4 minutes, depending on the thickness of the spears. Be careful to not overcook the asparagus. Plunge the asparagus into the ice water to stop the cooking. Drain the asparagus and dry on a paper towel.
4. In a large, dry skillet over low heat, warm the pine nuts until lightly toasted and fragrant, shaking the pan occasionally. Transfer the pine nuts to a plate to cool.
5. In a small sauté pan, cook the pancetta over medium high heat until it is brown, about 4 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta, leaving behind the fat.  

Turn the oven down to medium, add the breadcrumbs and cook, shaking the pan vigorously until the crumbs are light golden and crisp, about one minute. Transfer the crisped bread crumbs to a plate to cool.

The Burrata in this picture does not do justice
to the richness of the creamy centered cheese.
6. Cut the burrata ball in half and place one half on each plate, cut side up. Place the asparagus on top of the burrata, sprinkle with the golden onions, the toasted pine nuts and the crisped bread crumbs. Then top the dish with the tomatoes.  Drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Serve cold or at room temperature.