I’m well aware that this salad is unlikely to have the same appeal as that chocolate sheet cake I was fawning over a couple days ago, but I’m still going to try my best to convince you that the salad is every bit as a good as the sheet cake. Better, even. There, I said it. I’ve probably either lost you or caught your attention—so farewell to the former and hello to the latter.
To be fair, I too questioned this recipe, which filled out the Mother’s Day brunch we hosted on Sunday. The brunch otherwise consisted of tomato-feta strata, a giant platter of fruit, grilled breakfast sausages and a dozen or so members of Kevin’s immediate and extended family. This line-up was almost perfect; all it needed was a salad and I had asparagus on the brain (don’t we all?). Then I found this recipe, which looked promising, but my hang up was this: Dates? Really? I don’t love dates and before this salad I wasn’t even so sure I liked dates. In fact, I’ve probably picked them out of salads and and baked goods many times before. There may have been a bacon-wrapped exception to my no-dates policy, but that was it. Then again, though, dates did seem kind of breakfast-y, so I went with it.
And I’m so thankful I did, because the dates are key to this salad. They lend chew and sweetness—a perfect foil to the crunch of the asparagus, the meatiness of the walnuts, the salty nuttiness of the pecorino. The salad was the undeniable hit of the brunch. Don’t tell her I told you, but Kevin’s grandma stationed herself by the salad leftovers after brunch, as we tidied up the kitchen. From her perch, she picked up stray pieces of asparagus and pecorino between her thumb and index finger and popped them in her mouth. If I hadn’t been up to my elbows in dirty dishes, I would’ve joined her.
Grandma and others demanded the recipe. So, without further ado …
Asparagus Salad with Walnuts, Dates & Pecorino
Adapted from Food & Wine
1 1/4 cups walnuts
1 small shallot, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons walnut oil
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pounds asparagus, thinly sliced on the bias and blanched for 2 minutes in salted, boiling water
3/4 cup dried pitted Medjool dates, quartered lengthwise
3 ounces dry pecorino cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the walnuts in a pie plate and toast for about 8 minutes, until lightly golden and fragrant. Let cool completely, then coarsely chop.
In a small bowl, combine the shallot with the lemon juice. Whisk in both oils and season with salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, toss the toasted walnuts, asparagus, dates and pecorino. Add the dressing and toss. Serve at once.