Steamed asparagus on toast points topped with melted butter - that was my father's favorite way to enjoy this spring vegetable. Lately Peter and I have eaten asparagus steamed and then chilled in salads, roasted and served with prusciutto, a fried egg and topped with hollandaise, and in that delicious, creamless asparagus soup I wrote about in the last Open-Window. Today we added it to a farro salad with shiitake mushrooms and a miso dressing.
Farro is a whole grain and can be bought in several forms, whole, semiperlato (semi-pearled meaning part of bran has been removed), and perlato (pearled meaning all of the bran has been removed). The greatest nutrition is in the former, the quickest cooking is the latter - no matter which one you can find in your local stores, they are all good for you and any would be good in this recipe. Just remember, the whole grain form needs to be soaked overnight.
My sister has been making lots of farro salads recently and we enjoyed a couple during our recent visit to her new digs in Florida. Peter liked them which gave me the green light to try making some when we got home. This particular recipe caught my eye because of the miso dressing.
Miso is a soybean-based paste that adds unique flavors to anything its added to from light sauces to hearty stews. It comes in a variety of colors from white to black with yellow and red in between - the lighter the color the lighter the flavor, the darker the color the stronger the flavor. I've always liked the flavor in Miso Soup but had never worked with miso paste at all, so the learning curve was vertical. At first I could only find white miso (the recipe calls for yellow) so I bought it and learned that it is sweet - a very mellow, mildly sweet flavor but not the one I recalled from the soup. Trying several other stores, we came upon only one other and this one was orange - made by Marukome, "Japan's No.1 miso company", so we picked that up too and it's flavor was that distinctive flavor I recalled.
The dressing made with miso is a wonderful complement to the chewy nuttiness of the farro and the simplicity of the asparagus and shiitake mushrooms. The salad lasts for days and is best served at room temperature with a drizzle more miso dressing before each serving.
Farro Salad with Asparagus, Shiitakes & Miso Dressing
Salt & pepper to taste
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed, stalks cut into 2-inch pieces
1½ cups semi-pearled farro
5 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon yellow miso
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Have on hand a large bowl filled with ice and a small amount of water. Add asparagus to the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes or until tender. With tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer asparagus to the ice water (do not throw out the asparagus cooking water). When the asparagus are cool, pat dry with paper towels. Transfer to a large bowl.
- Return the asparagus cooking water to a boil. Add farro and cook (if whole grain farro it should have been soaked overnight and drained), stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until it is tender but still has some bite. Drain and let the farro cool slightly. Tip it into the bowl of asparagus.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring for 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and cook for 1 minute more. Transfer to the bowl of farro.
- In a small bowl, whisk together sherry vinegar, miso, salt, and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the dressing to the farro with the parsley. Toss well. Taste for seasoning and add more slat and pepper if you like.
Our asparagus season is winding down early this year as this crummy Spring has made it a real challenge to grow anything, so I decided I'd post this recipe ASAP so you might be able to make it with your local product.