Asparagus and I have a long, sordid history. It’s safe to say, up until a few years ago, I hated those green spears. I don’t use the word “hated” lightly. I despised them with a passion.
It all started when I was a teenager, living on the outskirts of the city (aka the boonies). One of our neighbors had a field of asparagus, which was harvested every year and sold to local grocers. And when I say “it was harvested”, I mean, child labor was implemented to cut the asparagus. And when I say “child labor”, I mean, me.
In retrospect, it was a great opportunity for teenage me to learn some discipline and the importance of earning my own dollars — I took the job seriously, and worked hard — but it was also some of the most grueling work I’ve ever done.
The average day began before the sun, in order to beat the mid-summer heat. It was never early enough, though, because by the time I was done picking the field some five hours later, the sun was merciless.
Cutting the stalks is a time consuming, by-hand kind of deal, where you walk down each row in search of ready-to-harvest greens, then bend or kneel to cut each stalk with a knife. On an average day, I might fill anywhere from three to six large bags.
At the end of each day, I hauled my bags back to the house to be weighed. As I recall, I earned something like 87 cents per pound. Which, if you think about how cheap asparagus is in its peak season, isn’t so bad. However, if you consider that five hours of work might yield as little as twenty pounds, is completely ridiculous. Besides making me hate asparagus, working that field gave me an enormous appreciation for the people who harvest fields that cannot be easily machine harvested.
By far, the worst part of the whole thing was the smell. After a row or two of cutting, my hands were sticky with asparagus juices, and by the end of the day, the smell had permeated every part of my body and clothing. No amount of showering could get that scent out of my nose, and even years later the smell of asparagus made me cringe.
Somehow, magically, time has healed all that. I heard somewhere that your palate changes every ten years, and based on this experience, I’d say that’s about right. Roasted, steamed lightly seared… asparagus is now on my a-list of vegetables. In fact, at the beginning of Spring, it’s one of the first things I crave.
It’s kind of amazing to think someone’s taste can change so drastically. Have you ever had a food you hate turn into one you love? Or vice versa?
Speaking of foods I now love… (insert smooth segue here)
Have you ever tried farro? These little grains have been on my radar for a while now, but I’ve only just gotten around to cooking with them. They are mild, nutty, and pleasantly chewy. They are also really easy to cook, which is a bonus when you’re doing a thousand other things.
Farro steps up in place of rice in this dish, but it can also be used just like barley in soups, stews, salads, etc.. Just keep in mind that it is an ancient species of wheat, so it does contain gluten. For a gluten-free option, just sub out the farro for rice, quinoa, or other gluten-free grain.
Maple Dijon Glazed Salmon with Asparagus and Farro
Makes 2 servings
For the farro:
1 cup semipearled farro*
2 1/2 cups water
1 tsp. kosher salt (or 1/2 tsp. sea salt)
For the salmon:
2 TBSP maple syrup
2 TBSP dijon mustard
2 6-oz. salmon fillets
2-3 TBSP olive oil
1 lb asparagus, trimmed
For the farro:
1. Rinse the farro throughly in a fine mesh strainer under cool running water. Set aside.
2. In a saucepan, bring the water and salt to a boil. Once boiling, stir in the farro, reduce heat to medium-low, and cover.
3. Let cook for 25-30 minutes, or until tender but still chewy. If you prefer the farro softer or mushier, cook it longer.
4. Remove from heat and drain off any excess liquid. Set aside.
(Farro can be served warm, or stored in the fridge for up to several days and reheated as needed.)
For the salmon:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together the maple syrup and dijon mustard. Set aside.
2. Heat a large cast-iron skillet (or oven-proof non-stick skillet) over medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, and let heat until the oil is glistening.
3. Pat salmon thoroughly dry with paper towel. Place the fillets skin-side up on a cutting board, and sprinkle the skin generously with kosher salt.
4. Once the pan is preheated, add the salmon skin-side down. Using your fingers or a couple of spatulas, press gently but firmly on the top of the salmon fillets to make sure the skin is making full contact with the pan. Hold for 30-40 seconds to set the skin and keep it from shrinking.
5. Add the asparagus to the pan around the salmon, and spoon the maple dijon mixture over the top of both fillets.
6. Transfer the pan to the center rack of the oven, and switch on the broiler. Broil for 6-8 minutes, or until the fish has just turned opaque, and is still slightly pink in the middle.
7. Remove from the oven and serve immediately over a bed of farro. Enjoy!
*Notes: Farro can be found whole, pearled, and semipearled. Pearled and semipearled mean that the hull has been removed, or partially removed. Depending on the type of farro you use, the cooking time will vary. If you’re using whole farro, it must be soaked overnight, then drained and cooked until tender. For semipearled farro, follow the directions in the recipe above. For pearled farro, the cooking time will be reduced. Check your farro periodically until it is tender to your liking. Alternatively, follow the instructions on the package.
For a gluten-free option, replace the farro with cooked quinoa, rice, or other gluten-free grain.