Prosciutto and poached egg add savor to springtime favorites
Springtime means fresh produce. That includes two of the year’s most anticipated treats: homegrown asparagus and spinach.
Both are abundant right now in the part of the US where we live. There’s terrific local asparagus from farmers’ markets. And spinach? Well, our backyard garden is producing a bumper crop.
Both asparagus and spinach are wonderful when served alone—but combining them in a salad makes for something special. Add some salty prosciutto and a poached egg, and voilà: a savory salad that you can serve as a small starter or a larger main course.
But hurry! The season for fresh local asparagus is short, and you don’t want to miss out. Otherwise you’ll have to wait until next year. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Recipe: Asparagus and Spinach Salad
This salad is similar in concept to Salade Frisée aux Lardons, which we discussed last year, although the ingredients are mostly different. As is the case with that salad, you can skip the poached egg if you want a less hearty dish—although you miss some of the fun and flavor the egg brings.
You can use thin or thick asparagus for this dish, though I prefer stems that are approximately the diameter of my little finger. When thin asparagus is fresh (that is, harvested within a day—or two at most—of serving), you almost don’t have to cook it—it’s that tender.
This recipe is very simple. You just toss spinach with vinaigrette, plate it, add asparagus (tossed in vinaigrette or not—your choice), and top with prosciutto and poached egg. Garnish with tomato if you like. You don’t need to follow exact measurements, particularly for the spinach and asparagus. Just use amounts that appeal to you.
The recipe takes about 15 minutes of active time to make, although you’ll want to wash, dry, and chill the spinach at least an hour before you begin. You can also cook the asparagus and make the vinaigrette hours ahead, if you choose. In addition, as explained in our post on How to Poach Eggs, you can cook the eggs ahead of time, then warm them in hot water right before serving. (Because this method is so simple, the recipe assumes that’s what you’ll be doing. See the Notes for a discussion of timing if you want to poach the eggs while you’re assembling the salad.)
This recipe serves two, although you can easily double or triple it.
- ~3 cups fresh spinach (exact quantity not critical)
- ~½ pound fresh asparagus (preferably stems with a diameter about as thick as your smallest finger)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt for seasoning asparagus cooking water (about half this if using regular table salt)
- 1 garlic clove (optional; may substitute shallot–see Notes)
- 2 to 3 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard (to taste, but you might find yourself craving a bit more mustard than you think)
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (or other good-quality vinegar)
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- additional salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 Poached Eggs (previously prepared; see recipe headnote)
- 2 to 4 slices of prosciutto, cut as thinly as possible
- a handful of grape or cherry tomatoes as garnish (optional)
- Wash, dry, and chill the spinach at least an hour before you plan to serve the salad: Remove any stems that are too woody, then tear the spinach into small pieces (or leave whole if using baby spinach). Wash and dry the spinach, then chill in the refrigerator.
- Prepare the asparagus: Fill a 4-quart (or larger) pot ¾ full with water and add salt. Heat the water on the stovetop, at high heat. Meanwhile, rinse the asparagus. If the stem bottoms seem woody, remove the last inch or two. Peel the asparagus if necessary (I only do this with thick asparagus). Cut the asparagus stems into pieces about 3 inches long, or keep whole if you prefer. Prepare a bowl of ice water for chilling the asparagus once it’s cooked: Add ice to a large mixing bowl, then add cold water. When the cooking water comes to a boil, add the asparagus and cook until it’s just tender (maybe 2 minutes for thin asparagus; a bit longer if thicker). Immediately drain the asparagus, then submerge it in the ice water. When cool, remove the asparagus and let it air dry on a kitchen towel until you need it. (Refrigerate the asparagus if you won’t be using it for a few hours.)
- Peel the garlic clove and mince it finely. Place it in a small bowl or jar that has a lid. Add the mustard, red wine vinegar, and olive oil. Put the lid on the bowl/jar and shake to emulsify the salad dressing. Taste, add salt and pepper to taste, and set aside (refrigerate the dressing if you don’t plan to assemble the salad right away).
- All of the above steps can be done hours ahead of time. We’re also assuming that you have poached and cooled the eggs (see recipe headnote). When you’re ready to assemble the salad, half-fill a small saucepan or skillet with water, and put it on the stove to heat (this is for warming the poached eggs; see Notes for timing if you want to poach the eggs as you assemble the salad). Bring the water just to a simmer.
- While the water is warming, add the spinach to a large bowl and pour in about half the vinaigrette. Toss to thoroughly coat the spinach leaves. Add more vinaigrette if necessary. Plate the spinach on serving plates, and distribute the asparagus spears over the spinach. (You can also toss the asparagus in vinaigrette if you like—see Notes.)
- By now, the water should be simmering. Slip the cold, previously poached eggs into the water to warm for 1 minute (set a timer so you don’t forget them). While the eggs are warming, drape the prosciutto slices over the spinach and asparagus on the serving plates (if you prefer, you can cut the prosciutto into bite-size pieces and sprinkle it over the salad). When the poached eggs have warmed for a minute, remove them from the water with a slotted spoon. Drain them briefly on a kitchen towel (or paper towel), and top each salad plate with an egg.
- Sprinkle each salad plate with some grape or cherry tomatoes (if desired) and serve.
- If you don’t want to poach the eggs ahead of time, just do the entire cooking process as you begin to assemble the salad. Following the instructions in the post on Poached Eggs, bring water to a simmer (in Steps 4 and 5 of this recipe). Add the eggs to the water and cook for 4 minutes while you assemble the salad. Then remove the eggs with a slotted spoon, drain them on a towel, and top each salad plate with an egg.
- I like garlic in this vinaigrette, but if you want something more subtle, substitute shallot. Use about 2 teaspoons, minced finely.
- Adding mustard to the vinaigrette helps form an emulsion (as well as providing great flavor). The addition of mustard is what allows you to make the dressing by shaking it up—oil and vinegar wouldn’t combine otherwise. If you prefer, you can make the dressing by whisking the mustard and vinegar together, then whisking in the oil drop by drop.
- You can toss the asparagus in vinaigrette if you choose. To do so, first toss the spinach with the vinaigrette (Step 5). Then add the asparagus, along with a bit more vinaigrette, and toss lightly.
- Alternatively, you can toss the spinach in vinaigrette and plate it. Then add the asparagus to the plate and dab it with some of the vinaigrette. Or plate the spinach, then in the same bowl toss the asparagus with a bit of vinaigrette, and add it to the plated spinach.
- The fresher the asparagus, the better. But how do you know when asparagus is fresh? Two things to look for: One, are the tips nice and tight? They should be. Second, are the stem bottoms white and fresh looking? Or are they cracked and brown? Buy the first, avoid the second.
- If you can’t cook asparagus right away, store it standing up in a container of water in the refrigerator.
- Baby spinach is wonderful in this dish, but more mature spinach works well too, as long as it’s fresh.
- Want an alternative garnish for this salad? Try Homemade Croutons.
The Bunny Trail
“I’m glad spinach is so cold hardy,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, munching her salad.
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s one of the few things we were able to plant early, after the brutal winter we had.”
“Speaking of which,” said Mrs K R. “The local rabbits seem peeved that we haven’t given them much to choose from this year. Most of our crops are taking a while to mature.”
“Plus, I put up a protective cage around our veggie garden,” I said. “They clearly hate that.”
“I’ll say,” said Mrs K R. “I see bunny eyes glaring at me from the bushes every time I step outside.”
“And there was a gnawed-off carrot top on our pillow this morning,” I said. “Do you think that’s a warning?”
“Absolutely,” said Mrs K R. “It’s the Leporidae syndicate.”
What a hare-raising prospect. Guess we’d better hop to it.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Salade Frisée aux Lardons
Spinach Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing
Spinach Salad with Parmesan
Edamame and Bean Salad
Summer Pasta Salad
Or check out the index for more recipes