If you're intrigued by the idea of "Italian with a California accent," then Italian My Way (S&S), the new cookbook from chef Jonathan Waxman. This unique treatment for one of spring's most ubiquitous vegetables is a stellar example of his imaginative technique.

Raw shaved asparagus with lemon dressing

This is the quintessential late-spring offering. This idea originally came via the café at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Technically chefs don’t really “steal” a recipe; we euphemistically “adapt” it. It’s a subtle but interesting difference. The use of raw asparagus had tantalized me, but I was too timid. Alice Waters is never timid.

Here’s my advice about asparagus: First, please don’t serve asparagus from five thousand miles away; it is neither sensible nor tasty. Second, freshness is paramount; the stalks need to be crisp, not limp or tired. Last, not all asparagus are created equal. Look for tips that have not bolted. The leaves should lie flat against the stalk. The spears should taste sweet and almost grassy, and they should need some cleaning (dirt left by the farmer is a good sign of freshness, usually). Shopping for them is the lengthiest portion of the process; the recipe will take about ten minutes. Try and shave the asparagus at the very last second. If you shave them ahead of time, keep them undressed in the refrigerator until ready to serve.


  • ¼ cup hazelnuts

  • 1 pound farm-stand asparagus

  • Juice of 1 lemon

  • ¼ cup soft extra-virgin Spanish or Provençal olive oil

  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan


Instructions

  1. Toast the hazelnuts on a baking sheet for 5–8 minutes in a preheated 350° oven; cool and then crush in a towel using a rolling pin.

  2. Wash and snap the asparagus spears at their base (the white, bitter part can be used for a delicious soup, see [book]). Upend a small bowl, place a spear on the flat bottom and, using a vegetable peeler, gently shave long thin slices.

  3. Mix the lemon juice with the olive oil and add sea salt and black pepper.

  4. At the very last second toss the dressing with the hazelnuts and asparagus. Serve on a platter decorated with the Parmesan.


Serves 3–4, depending on the size of the asparagus spears

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Recipe reprinted from Jonathan Waxman’s Italian My Way (Simon & Schuster), copyright 2011, with permission from the publisher. All rights reserved.

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