Asparagus and Bacon Salad

Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews

A terrific taste of May in the Midwest you can make in a matter of minutes

I wait anxiously each spring for the arrival of the new season’s asparagus. This year, with cool weather in late April and early May, our local crop came in a bit later than usual. Now that it’s here, it’s time for me to start cooking it in every way imaginable! This salad is one of my favorite ways to use it—it’s easy to make and delicious to eat.

Putting together the salad, any artisan bacon (of which we have many) will be wonderful, but since I’m thinking about the Midwest, I thought I’d go with the wonderful Applewood-Smoked Bacon we get from the Nueske family up in Wittenberg, Wisconsin. The family has been working at their culinary craft for decades now, and like Rolando and Shawn, they epitomize Good Profit. We’ve been cooking their bacon every day since we opened in the Deli in the middle of March 1982. The pork bellies are smoked for 24 hours over whole applewood logs, which makes for a smoky, subtly sweet, meaty bacon with a good bit of complexity. It pairs really well with the fresh green flavors of the asparagus!

To make the salad, fill a bowl with fresh arugula, a local lettuce mix, escarole, or whatever your salad green of choice is. Coarsely chop a few slices of the bacon, and add it to a medium-hot skillet. While it’s cooking, slice some fresh asparagus into one-inch or so pieces. Add it to the bacon and cook until it’s soft. Throw a sprinkling of white wine vinegar onto the salad greens—I’m partial to the totally terrific Pofi vinegar we have at the Deli. Add a sprinkling of fine sea salt and toss with the greens. When the asparagus is tender (I like it slightly brown) toss it along with the bacon onto the salad. Add some shaved or grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese if you like. Add a grinding of good black pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Take a minute to appreciate the natural beauty of the salad’s greens, browns, and golds as well as the local farmers who work so hard to grow such great asparagus, and enjoy the spring season!

In Autentico, Rolando happens to have a similar recipe. He uses marinated prosciutto rather than bacon and adds a little lemon and chopped hard-boiled egg. (The salad is also lovely with an over-easy or poached egg too!)