Sunday, July 18, 2010

Avocado, Snow Pea, Asparagus Salad

~ The Green Machine ~

One glorious thing about summer is all the green. The green grass, the various shades of green leaves of the trees, pistacho ice cream, key lime pie, margaritas.  Green is great!  It can be vibrant and calming and delicious all at once.

My entire life I've been naturally drawn to the green one no matter what it is.  I have to consciously make sure I buy a variety of colors of clothing because the green one always looks best to me - sweaters, socks, shoes, skirts.  Well, wait.  That's not entirely true.  I feel no magnetism to green pants, although I did have a fascination with Mr. Green Jeans there for a while.

I had a green SUV once, which I loved, but it was not my first green vehicle.  Way back when tiny Clarksville, PA, was my entire world and a guest appearance by Mr. Green Jeans was the highlight of my day, I longed for and was finally the proud owner of a Green Machine at the ripe old age of six. Anyone else remember these crazy contraptions?

As fond as I am of all things green (with the aforementioned exception of pants), this recipe didn't achieve the ranks of Keeper based on color alone.  Heavens, no!  Not only is it different than anything else at the potluck, and not only is it pretty darned healthy... it's absolutely YUMMO!  It is one of my go-to recipes for summer gatherings and never fails to garner rave reviews and recipe requests.  And by the way, isn't all that green just lovely?

Avocado, Snow Pea, Asparagus Salad
1 lb. asparagus spears, woody stalks snapped off
1/2 lb. snow peas, strings removed
1-2 fresh, ripe avocados
½ cup toasted pine nuts

Olive Oil Parmesan Dressing
½ cup Newman's Own Olive Oil and Vinegar dressing
Up to ½ cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 large clove fresh garlic, minced
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Mix all dressing ingredients and set aside.  (This photo shows twice as much dressing because I doubled the salad for a party.)

Blanch asparagus and snow peas in large pot of boiling water for 3-4 minutes until slightly softened but still crisp.

While the vegetables are blanching, prepare a large bowl of ice water.  Drain vegetables briefly in colander, then immediately stir into the bowl of ice water.  This stops the cooking process and retains that bright green color.  When vegetables are completely cold, pick out the remaining ice cubes and return to the colander to drain.

Put the pine nuts in a stainless steel pan and place over medium-high heat.  Stir frequently until evenly golden brown, about 5 minutes.  The aroma released by the pine nuts is wonderful, and toasting them on the stove is a joy.  However, if you prefer to be more hands-off, you can spread the pine nuts on a baking sheet and place in the oven for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees until nicely browned.

It doesn't matter what recipe you make that includes pine nuts; toasting them will enhance the flavor of your dish exponentially.  It's a must-do.  Really.

Now that the asparagus and snow peas are adequately drained, cut them into 1" pieces.  (For the last couple years, I would cut the vegetables before I blanched them, but it became cumbersome to pick all those small pieces from the ice and colander.  Blanching and icing them whole and cutting later has proven to be a more streamlined process for me.)  Arrange these green beauties on a serving platter; lightly dry with paper towel.

At this point you can place plastic wrap over the platter, and pack the dressing, avocado(s), and pine nuts to go to your potluck, picnic, or summer party.

Immediately before serving, cut avocado into squares and arrange on platter. Sprinkle with pine nuts and drizzle with dressing.

Here's a clever way to cut avocado squares quickly and neatly:
Slice avocado in half length-wise around the pit.  Gently twist to separate the two halves. Remove pit by sticking with the broad side of a large knife blade.  You'll have to use a little force to get the knife blade to stick.  Gently twist and lift the pit.  While holding one half of the avocado face up, slice a grid in the avocado down to the skin of the fruit. Invert over the salad and gently squeeze, working the cubes loose and allowing them to fall onto the salad.