Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what got me into cooking. One thing I loved about it was discovering how to improvise. It is a little like a puzzle: pulling together a meal with what’s on hand, considering flavor and texture, perhaps weather and mood.
I cook that way less often now — making recipes requires a kind of precision. But this salad is perfect for improvisation. The quantity and type of produce you choose is wide open to variation. You can think about color and flavor and crunch when choosing your vegetables, and need only a basic vinaigrette, some Parmesan and capers (which really pull it together), and ideally, a mandoline to make those delicate slices. You can find inexpensive Benriner mandolines, which are my favorite, online.
Shaved Spring Vegetable Salad
Yield: 4-6 servings
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons golden Balsamic vinegar
1 small shallot, minced
4 spears asparagus
1 large watermelon radish
1 small fennel bulb
1/4 small cauliflower
4 baby artichokes, optional (artichokes are optional, nix if short on time)
1 lemon, juiced, for the artichoke only
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Prepare the dressing first. Combine the minced shallot with the golden Balsamic vinegar. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, and whisk vigorously to emulsify. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Use a vegetable peeler to shave the carrots and asparagus. Holding each by their widest end against a stable surface, slowly shave along the length of the vegetable. You likely won’t be able to shave the entire vegetable. Add the carrots and asparagus to a large mixing bowl.
Next, use the mandoline to shave the radish, fennel and cauliflower. Add those to the same mixing bowl.
If using baby artichokes, start by removing their tough outer leaves until you arrive at the tenderest inner leaves. Slice off 3/4 of the leaves. Working carefully with the mandoline, slice the hearts of the artichokes and immediately toss in lemon juice to prevent browning. Add to the mixing bowl.
Drizzle the vinaigrette over the vegetables. Because the thin vegetables are delicate, it’s best to use your hands to carefully toss the salad.
Divide among serving plates. Top each with a few Parmesan shavings and a small spoonful of capers. Best served immediately.
All photos by Kimberley Hasselbrink.