Every town I've lived in has had a weekly Farmers Market (or several different Farmers Markets) and/or local farms that will sell produce, meat, eggs, etc. directly to consumers. I remember my mom taking me to the local farm stand each summer to buy (and even pick) seasonal fruits and thinking that there was just something so special about that. My love of farm-to-table cuisine has only grown stronger over the years (and admittedly, I'm a bit of a snob about it). Luckily, there are a plethora of farms right near where I live and there are Farmers Markets and farm-stands open every day of the week.
I recently visited one of my favorite local farms to pick up some seasonal produce and check out what they had growing. Isabelle Farm is located just outside of Boulder and supplies produce to many of the best restaurants in town. I got to peek inside their greenhouse, where all of the little seeds grow into delicious, beautiful vegetables. Check out these baby cabbage plants!
Isabelle Farm offers an awesome CSA, which is a really great way to have a constant supply of fresh, seasonal produce (especially if you have more than one person living in your house!) for a really great price. They also operate a farmstand, where you can buy produce grown on their farm and many other locally made products (like bread, honey, meats and lotions!). I asked their staff to recommend some vegetables and herbs that were in season and they suggested asparagus and tarragon.
I knew that I wanted to create some type of light side dish featuring seasonal ingredients, but really had no idea of what that would be. My plan was to just pick out a few ingredients that are in season and let inspiration take over. When I got the asparagus, I knew that I wanted to keep them raw. Although it's most often eaten cooked, raw asparagus is sweet and tender and delicious! I knew it would pair well with arugula (also in season) for a sweet and spicy combination.
Tarragon is something that I always have on hand, but it's usually of the dried variety. I found that fresh tarragon is much more aromatic and reminds me a lot of fennel (with a licorice-like scent). I wanted to use it to make a vinaigrette and keep it simple and light. Just a few ingredients like fresh lemon, salt and pepper would make the perfect dressing for this salad. Shaved Parmesan cheese adds the perfect finishing touch for a salad that's full of different flavors- sweet, spicy, salty and rich.
This salad is the perfect appetizer for entertaining and would be great to serve along with a beautiful piece of grilled fish and some crusty bread. If you're making the salad in advance, wait to dress it until about 30 minutes before serving. Toss well to get all of the flavors to incorporate.
Shaved Asparagus & Arugula Salad with Lemon-Tarragon Vinaigrette
1 lb. fresh asparagus
4 cups arugula
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 TBSP fresh, finely chopped tarragon
salt + pepper to taste (about 1/4 tsp. each)
1/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
Trim all of the ends of the asparagus (they should break naturally- just "snap" near the bottom of each stalk). Using a vegetable (carrot) peeler, slice each piece of asparagus into thin strips and place into a large bowl. Add the arugula and toss together. In a small bowl, make the vinaigrette. Squeeze the juice of a lemon and zest 1/2 of it into the bowl. Slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl, whisking as you pour. Whisk in the tarragon, salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad and stir well (and let sit for at least 10 minutes to let the flavors set in). Top with Parmesan cheese and serve.