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In fact who cares? Well a lot of people don’t really, but I have had a few debates over the years as to which is which (yes I know I need to get out more) , so here goes the debate, and I welcome your comments as to which is which. I touched on this subject in an earlier post, using asparagus again, it must be a seasonal debate of mine! And another post about asparagus here. According to Larousse Gastronomique (and that’s a book that should know) a salad is ” a dish of raw or cold cooked foods, usually dressed and seasoned, served as an hors d’oeuvre, side dish etc”. It then takes various forms:  green, plain or mixed.

According to The Oxford Companion to Food the warm salad is a 20th century invention. The original salad or salata is derived from the Latin sal which gave us the term relating to “salted things”. Brilliant, so chips &  bacon is a salad! Oh no, wait a minute, chips are hot. So if they’re served warm does that make them a salad? I mean it’s composed mainly of vegetables isn’t it? Perhaps not, but we can dream. The scary thing is that there are people in this country that think chips are one of their five a day!

And my favourite description is from a Book of Medieval Food (Maggie Black 1985) the salat is described thus: “Take parsel, sawge, garlec, chibollas, oynons, leek, borage, myntes, porrectes, fenel, and ton tressis, rew, rosemarye, purslane, lave, and waisshe hem clene. Pike hem, pluck hem small with thyn hand and mygn hem wel with rawe oile. Lay on vynegar and salt and serve it forth” That seems a little different from opening a bag of salad from the supermarket doesn’t it?

Okay, so my opinion (such as it is) is that a salad is a cold or warm dish, not hot, composed mainly of cooked vegetables, dressed with some form of oil/vinegar/mayonnaise/lemon/lime juice arrangement. A hot salad isn’t a salad and I don’t know what it is.

So on to dinner. The first asparagus of the year is always pretty expensive (it’s never cheap anyway) but it’s everything that’s exciting about seasonal food. I tend to wait a few weeks after the first stems have hit the shops & the price goes down a little. Asparagus is one of those quintessentially english ingredients that needs to be celebrated once a year. Not served up every week of the year, chargrilled from Peru with fancy butters and confused accompaniments.

The great thing about it is that it’s very versatile, has a strong flavour of its own and thus will take some pretty robust flavours with it. Chargrilled is nice, plain boiled with just unsalted butter, freshly-ground black pepper & flaky salt is classic and amazing or mixed with other interesting ingredients as part of a bigger salad. I chose the latter for dinner.

Asparagus, bacon & potato salad with lemon & mustard dressing (and a poached egg):

1 bunch of asparagus, snapped of woody ends.

Bacon lardons, a small handful (I’ll post pictures and recipes of my home-made bacon at some point)

2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced.

2 medium potatoes, peeled if old & too muddy (mine were!) diced in 2-3cm cubes

2-3 Courgettes, sliced.

2 fresh, free-range eggs

For the dressing:

  • Finely grated zest & juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1-2 tsp grain mustard
  • A pinch of salt
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  • Good olive oil

Put on big pot of water to boil

In a non-stick frying pan, fry the bacon lardons over a medium heat until they’re starting to take some colour, stirring. Add the garlic & continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes. Take the pan off the heat &…

Drop the potatoes into the water and simmer until tender, about 5 minutes. When they’re done, take them out with a slotted spoon and allow them to steam-dry for a minute or 2.You’re going to use the water again for the asparagus so don’t chuck it out, put it back on to boil.

Place the cooked potato into the bacon pan & put the frying pan back on the heat, medium-hot this time. Stir or toss the bacon, potato & garlic. Ideally the spuds will take on some colour, but don’t worry too much if they don’t. The important thing is that they soak up the bacony-garlic flavour. It may, or may not, look something like this. Eagle-eyed readers will notice my garlic a little browned which you may, or may not enjoy as a flavour, it can be quite strong. Ideally you’ll be doing 2 things at once for efficiency, so..

Needs a bit of colour

For flavour the potatoes need a little browning

When the water has come back to a rolling boil drop in the asparagus for 4 minutes, 5 at a push. Then take them out & drop them in to cold water to stop them cooking & going soft. If you want you can put some ice in, but I find running the cold tap is usually enough.

Put the sliced courgettes in to the bacon/potato pan and stir gently over a medium heat. You can turn up the heat a bit & give the courgettes some more flavour if you like, just remember to keep it moving so they don’t catch on the pan. Probably about another 5 minutes or so. I like my courgettes just cooked with a little bite.

For the dressing combine the lemon zest, juice & mustard in a screw top jar with the salt & pepper. Give it good shake and add double the volume of olive oil (extra virgin for preference) to lemon/mustard. Give it really, really good shake and add 1/2 as much oil again. Taste, it may need more oil, it may not. You can obviuosly adjust the mustard to your taste as well. Sorry to be a bit imprecise with my measurements, but lemons are all different sizes. I find it much easier (and more efficient) to use 1/2 a lemon rather than just squeeze some out & you’re left with a squashed lemon. A good ratio of oil to lemon is 4:1.

Nearly cooked & without dressing

Slice the asparagus on the angle, throw in the pan with the other ingredients & warm through with as much dressing as you like. Probably about 2-3 tablespoons.

Serve with a softly poached egg on top. The egg should ooze on to the salad in a luxurious manner. Mine didn’t, I overcooked them so there’s no photo! Hey, nobody’s perfect.


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