The roasted asparagus is topped with lightly sauteed spring onions in a warm bacon vinaigrette made with preserved lemons and a splash of champagne vinegar. The whole thing is topped with fresh herb leaves, bits of bacon and toasted pine nuts. See the Notes section for the scoop on preserved lemons (quasi-pun intended), spring onions and other details.
4 strips of bacon
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 medium spring onions
2 pounds asparagus, trimmed
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided (plus an extra glug or two if needed)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, peeled and grated on a microplane to yield about 1/2 teaspoon
About a half-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated on a microplace to yield about 1/2 teaspoon
1 tablespoon mashed preserved lemons (see Notes)
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
A handful or two of fresh herb leaves in season, such as parsley, basil and sorrel.
1. Cook the bacon gently over medium heat in a medium skillet until crisp, adjusting the heat as needed to prevent the browned bits on the bottom of the pan from burning. While the bacon cooks, toast the pine nuts by tossing them in a dry pan over medium-high heat until they’ve taken on some color and character. Remove the bacon pan from heat and drain the cooked bacon strips on paper towels, leaving the fat in the pan. Chop the bacon into small pieces.
2. Prep the onions by first separating the white and pale green parts from the darker green parts. Slice the white and pale green parts into 1/8-inch thick rounds and set aside. Slice the darker green parts into thin rounds and set aside separately.
3. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees with the rack in the middle position. Lay the asparagus spears in a sheet pan lined with foil , drizzle 3 tablespoons of olive oil over them and sprinkle with a half-teaspoon of the salt and a few generous grinds of black pepper. Use tongs or your hands to mix everything together so the spears are evenly coated with the oil and seasonings. Roast for 8-12 minutes, depending on the thickness of your spears, just until they can be easily pierced by a fork.
4. While the asparagus is roasting, make the spring onion/vinaigrette topping. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the bacon fat in the pan and warm it over medium heat. Add the white and pale green onion rounds to the pan when it’s hot enough for them to sizzle gently as you add them. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt over the onions and saute for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger, toss briefly to combine, then stir in the preserved lemons. (Add another glug of oil if the pan seems dry at any point.) Add the vinegar to the pan, remove from heat and use a wooden spatula to quickly scrape up the browned bits from the bottom. Taste and add a pinch more salt if needed.
5. Spread the asparagus on a serving platter and top with the onion mixture. Drizzle with another tablespoon of olive oil, then sprinkle the bacon and pine nuts over the dish. Scatter the sliced onion greens and herb leaves over everything and serve.
I created this dish in late March, with the calendar swearing it’s spring, and the slightly warmer weather confirming the fact - but the crops still claiming they didn’t get the memo. Where are all those juicy strawberries? Those pretty chive blossoms? The ramps?
Barely starting to grow, that’s where. And still weeks or months away from the market. And truth be told, around here the same is probably true for the asparagus and spring onions in this recipe. But I was able to find them at the market (thank you, farmers to the south!), so I was off to the races.
The thing is that in early spring, while the sunshine and crocus blossoms do their best to convince us things have finally turned a corner, those cold nights keep showing up to say not so fast. Don’t get ahead of yourself, we’re just on the cusp. So in this dish we keep ourselves warm as we oven-roast those long-awaited asparagus spears. We lightly saute those spring onions, while making a vinaigrette in the pan from the foods preserved to see us through the cold, lean months. The finished dish is hearty enough to fortify us for the long slog toward actual warm weather, and bright enough to cheer us up in the meantime.
The spring onion topping is held together with a vinaigrette made right in the pan from rendered bacon fat, along with a little extra olive oil, and a splash of champagne vinegar. The preserved lemons contribute just the right funky-bright note to lift your spirits and keep you interested. The bacon and pine nuts give the dish a little heft, and the herbs on top signal better days to come.
If you haven’t cooked with preserved lemons before, you should get your hands on a jar this instant! They’re lemons that have been fermented and preserved with salt, and they’re funky, lemony, salty and just the faintest bit sweet, all at the same time. (Here’s another recipe you can make with them once the growing season really gets underway.) Depending on your particular jar, they may be fall-apart tender or a bit more solid. For this recipe, I used a combination of the rind and flesh (discard the seeds). You can either mash them up with a fork, mince them or blend them in a mini-food processor or with a hand blender. But you only need a tablespoon, so don’t go crazy.