Suddenly, they were everywhere. Delicate, thin stalks of asparagus appeared in the markets in all of their glory. They are on special! They are as tender and flavorful as all get out! It was time to get excited about spring vegetables. Granted, asparagus, like most all other produce, is now available year-round. While it is tolerable during the other seasons, out of season asparagus does not compare to the first of the season, local crop. The other spring beauties that shine like green diamonds in the spring are fresh English peas and finicky fava beans. Combined, these veggies make a beautiful statement as a side dish or an alternative to a salad. My initial thought was to dress the vegetables simply with olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice. But then I remembered that the lemon juice would turn the green vegetables brown and unappealing. Boo! That's when it occurred to me to dress it with a gremolata: a minced combination of lemon zest, parsley and garlic. The lemon zest would provide the acidic zing, the parsley would bring brightness and even more freshness to the veggie party and the garlic does what garlic was created to do (aka make everything more delicious). Topping this loose, green dish with a soft and white cheese really brought it together and made it a perfect accompaniment to Amy's Fresh Egg Pasta.
Notes: Gremolata can be prepared several ways. I primarily used a microplane to finely grate the garlic and zest the lemon - I found that this method cut down my chopping time tremendously. Some people use a mortar and pestle to make a paste with all of the ingredients, others chop everything completely with a knife, and some use a food processor to get the results they want. Fava beans have a very short and sweet season so they can be cumbersome to acquire. They are also time intensive to shell and prepare. I was committed to fava beans, but if you can't find them or don't want to prepare them, omitting them won't do any harm, either.
Read More: The Shared Pasta and Spring Vegetables
Time: 50 minutes
2 bunches of asparagus
1 cup of english peas
1/2 cup fava beans (optional)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
3 garlic cloves
1 cup of parsley leaves, packed
8 oz fresh mozzarella (or burrata)
In a large pot, bring salted water to a rolling boil over medium heat. Fill a large bowl with ice and water - set ice bath aside. Prepare asparagus bunches by cutting off the woody ends (about 2 inches). Blanch asparagus for 1-2 minutes depending on the thickness of your asparagus stalks and your vegetable doneness preference. Remove from boiling water with tongs and submerge in the ice bath to stop the cooking. Remove asparagus from the ice bath onto a towel to absorb the excess water.
In the same pot of boiling water, blanch and cool the peas as you did the asparagus. Set aside.
Lastly, blanch the fava bean pods in the boiling water for 2-4 minutes cooking them through. Strain the pods and set aside to cool. Once the pods are cool, remove the waxy bean shells from the pod. Using a small pairing knife, slit the waxy shells to release the beans. Set the shelled beans aside.
In a large bowl (I used a half sheet baking pan), gently combine the asparagus, peas and fava beans. Season the vegetables with kosher salt, pepper and olive oil.
For the gremolata: using a microplane, zest one entire lemon onto your cutting board. Microplane the garlic on top of the lemon zest. Finely chop the parsley on the same cutting board, incorporating the lemon zest and grated garlic as you mince away until everything is well combined.
Sprinkle the asparagus mixture with the gremolata to taste. Mix and combine, and let sit for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld before serving. Tear mozzarella and dot over asparagus. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding salt or gremolata as necessary!