Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. My birthday falls around it and most years I’m surrounded by dear friends and family, which is pretty perfect. But, really, birthday or not, it’s about the food, isn’t it? At our house, we’re traditional all the way, but sometimes I want sides that aren’t so rich. Several years ago I started making an asparagus salad that I found in an old Food & Wine magazine that has become one of our staples. I like that the fennel dressing can be made in advance, same for toasting the walnuts, so day of, it’s just blanching asparagus and assembling. It doesn’t get simpler than this; save the fussy for the cornbread stuffing.
Asparagus Salad with Toasted Walnuts and Goat Cheese
1 cup walnut halves (4 ounces)
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
2 pounds medium asparagus
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 large scallion, white and light green parts only, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
1 tablespoon chopped mint
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 ounces crumbled goat cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the walnuts on a small baking sheet and bake them for 8 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Transfer to a plate to cool, then break in half.
2. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, toast the fennel seeds over moderately high heat until fragrant and golden, about 20 seconds. Transfer to a work surface and let cool, then finely chop.
3. Pour ½ inch of water into a large pot fitted with a large steamer basket and bring to a boil. Discard the tough ends from the asparagus and add the spears to the steamer; cover and steam over high heat until just tender, about 4 minutes. Transfer to paper towels and pat dry. Let cool to room temperature, then cut on the diagonal into 2-inch lengths.
4. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the olive oil with the vinegar, scallion, tarragon, mint and chopped fennel seeds. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Add the asparagus and walnuts to the bowl and toss. Add the goat cheese. Season with salt and pepper, transfer to plates and serve.