Sunday, March 4, 2012

Spinach and Asparagus Salad with Roasted Red Peppers, Smoked Paprika Croutons and Kalamata Olive Vinaigrette (now that's a mouthful)

Yippee! Spring is coming, and that means asparagus is in season once again. Every winter I look forward to the tell-tale sign that spring is on the horizon when asparagus appears in abundance at every local supermarket. And I am all over it!

It wasn't always this way for me. I was convinced for years that I hated asparagus. Due to bad childhood memory association, the asparagus of my youth was overcooked, slimy, army-green, salty and always from a can (same thing with peas and spinach, ugh! However, as a kid I actually liked those). Asparagus straight-up scared me. I was led to believe that this was some sort of gourmet thing, of which I was convinced I wanted to have nothing to do with.

This fear of asparagus endured long and strong, even through my early adult life, where I spent 6 1/2 years as a vegetarian. I never touched the stuff. It wasn't until my mid-twenties, newly-married, my husband started to hint to me that we should give it a try (I think his kid/asparagus experience was not too different from mine). We bought some beautiful, fresh asparagus,cooked it up the right way and happily devoured it. Now I joke with my husband that asparagus is the vegetable of our love.

So now me and asparagus are perennial buddies. No longer a nightmare from my youth. I love it steamed, sauteed, fried, baked, broiled & grilled. Just keep that can away from me. What a sad fate for such a beautiful vegetable.

Spinach and Asparagus Salad with Roasted Red Peppers, Smoked Paprika Croutons and Kalamata Olive Vinaigrette 
~serves 6~

*note:  putting the goat cheese in the freezer for 10-15 minutes prior to crumbling makes it much easier to crumble without sticking to your fingers so much.

For the smoked paprika croutons:
2 c. 1/2 inch bread cubes
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced in a garlic press or grated on a microplane grater
3/4 t. smoked paprika
1/8 t. salt
For the kalamata vinaigrette: (makes about 2/3 c.)
2 T. finely minced kalamata olives
1 T. minced shallot
3/4 t. minced fresh thyme
1/2 t. smoked paprika
1 1/2 T. red wine vinegar
1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
salt & pepper
For the salad:
1 lb asparagus, tough ends snapped off, cut into 2-inch lengths
2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, cut into 2-inch strips
6 oz. bag baby spinach
4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
kalamata vinaigrette
smoked paprika croutons

1. For the croutons: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix together olive oil, garlic, smoked paprika, and salt in a medium bowl. Add bread cubes and toss until evenly coated. Spread onto a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Cool completely.

2. For the vinaigrette: Combine all the dressing ingredients (plus salt and pepper to taste). Set aside.

3. To prepare the asparagus: Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add 2 t. salt and asparagus. Cook for about 2 minutes, until asparagus is bright green and crisp-tender. Remove asparagus with a slotted spoon and plunge immediately in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain asparagus and pat dry with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. 

4. To put the salad together: Combine the asparagus and roasted peppers in a medium bowl. Toss in 2 tablespoons of vinaigrette. Toss the spinach with the remaining vinaigrette, add in the asparagus-roasted pepper mixture, the goat cheese and the croutons. Toss well to combine. Serve immediately.


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