We asked restaurateur Alice Waters to adapt some recipes from Chez Panisse, the famous California restaurant, -- mindful that our readers would be soon foraging in local markets in the early springtime.
Ms. Waters graciously obliged with a salad, a provocative combination of wedges of red and golden beets nestled on tender asparagus, all seasoned with a straightforward shallot vinaigrette and a lively salsa verde that is a fine garnish for delicately flavored dishes such as poached salmon.
Look for golden beets at farmers' markets: Wonderfully sweet, they will not bleed into other ingredients the way red ones do. If you can't find very thin stalks of asparagus, cut thicker asparagus lengthwise in halves or quarters after peeling.
Asparagus and beet salad
1 pound small beets (6 to 8), preferably a mixture of red and golden beets, washed, tops trimmed
2 pounds thin asparagus
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place beets in a baking dish. (If using red and golden beets, bake them separately.) Add 1/2 cup water, cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for about 1 hour, or until the beets are tender when pierced with a knife. Let stand until cool enough to handle. Peel off skin. Cut the beets into quarters or eighths, depending on their size.
Snap off tough ends of asparagus stalks. With a vegetable peeler, peel the lower portion of the asparagus stalks. Cut into 3-inch lengths. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook asparagus until just tender, about 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and refresh with cold water. Pat dry.
In a small bowl, stir together shallots, vinegar, salt and pepper. Gradually, whisk in oil. In a medium-sized bowl, toss the beets with half of the shallot vinaigrette. (If using different colors of beets, use separate bowls.) Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. In another bowl, toss asparagus with the remaining vinaigrette. Arrange the beets and asparagus on individual plates and serve.
Salsa verde is a very old Italian relish of herbs, anchovies and fine olive oil. Salt-packed anchovies from Italy, available in specialty stores, are worth making an extra effort to obtain. They can also be ordered from: Dean & Deluca, Inc. Mail Order Department, 560 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10012, (800) 221-7714, Ext. 223.
4 anchovy fillets, preferably Italian salt-packed
1 small shallot, minced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 tablespoon drained capers, rinsed and finely chopped
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 small clove garlic, minced
salt and black pepper to taste
Soak anchovy fillets in cold water for 15 minutes, changing the water several times. Drain and squeeze out moisture. (If using salt-packed anchovies, remove center bones and tail.) Chop anchovies finely. In small bowl stir in shallots, oil, parsley, capers, vinegar, tarragon, oregano, thyme and garlic. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt, pepper and additional vinegar, if necessary. It should be slightly tart.