It’s Heston Blumenthal’s fault that I burnt myself making this salad.
In The Fat Duck Cookbook, under the recipe for ‘Salmon Poached in a Liquorice Gel, with Black Truffle, Asparagus, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Manni Olive Oil’ (totally on my list of things to make and blog about…), Heston notes that asparagus is best cooked in oil, rather than water, because of the hydrophilic – that is to say, water-soluble – nature of the asparagus’s ‘aroma molecules’. So, in short, cooking asparagus in oil retains more flavour than cooking it in water.
I don’t habour any delusions of being able to cook like Heston, but when I read this I figured it was a tip I could easily employ. And it makes sense – when you cook asparagus in water the water does take on a very strong asparagus-y smell. The problem for me was that when I first made this salad, I threw the asparagus in a pan and didn’t realise how hot the oil was. Well, to be fair, I’d been cooking some zucchini fritters in the pan and the oil didn’t seem that hot. But when it splashed out onto my wrist, I realised that it was, in fact, quite hot. If it weren’t for Heston, I would have cooked the asparagus in water and probably just scalded myself…
Injuries aside, the salad was a success and was surprisingly tasty. To be fair, the common element of most things I find ‘surprisingly tasty’ seems to be cheese, which may go some way to explaining why I liked this salad so much… The first time I made it was to use up some sad, floppy celery stalks and a bunch of asparagus that was threatening to go slimy at the tips (hence why I felt the need to add cheese). The second time I bought the ingredients for it specifically, and it was better. It also stays fairly crunchy for a few days, so it was good to take for lunch.
Celery, asparagus, walnut and fetta salad
1 bunch of asparagus
2-3 stalks of celery, chopped
handful of walnuts, toasted and chopped roughly
handful of fresh parsley and basil, chopped
splash of white balsamic vinegar, or a squeeze of lemon juice (I understand most people don’t have white balsamic vinegar, but I have a slight obsession with it)
cracked black pepper
about 50g fetta
Snap the woody ends off the asparagus. Chop into 2cm pieces.
Heat some olive oil in a pan that has a lid over medium heat. Heston says 2mm of oil… I just pour a splash in. Add the asparagus and cover the pan with the lid. Cook for about 5 minutes, then drain on a paper towel. Leave to cool.
When the asparagus is completely cool, combine in a bowl with the celery, walnuts and herbs. Add the white balsamic or lemon juice, pepper (however much you want) and a splash of olive oil and toss until combined. Crumble the fetta over the top. Jamie Oliver would tell you to do this ‘from a height’, and I have no idea what the benefit of this could possibly be. But now I always think it whenever I crumble fetta on things. The only benefit I can imagine is that it makes you feel like you’re on a cooking show. Anyway, that’s it, and when you serve the salad you can mix the fetta through a bit more evenly.