RAW ARTICHOKE & SHAVED ASPARAGUS SALAD, WITH POACHED EGG & TRUFFLE
(INSALATA DI CARCIOFI CRUDI & ASPARAGI, CON UOVO IN CAMICIA & TARTUFO)
Pride of place along the stone footpaths of the Venissa gardens is given to the artichokes. Some of these are of a local variety, ‘Violetti di San Erasmo,’ that are prized for their tender flowering tips or ‘castraùre.’ The young carciofi castraùre are so tender in fact, that they are usually just stripped of their outermost leaves, and finely sliced to be eaten raw in salads – just mix with a little lemon, olive oil, pepper and a lot of Grana Pandano cheese! (See here for full recipe from a previous post).
The following recipe combines these artichokes with another tender spring vegetable – asparagus. Blanched for the briefest time, this too is then thinly shaved, and dressed with lemon and truffle oil. A warm poached egg finishes the dish, along with some indulgent black truffle shavings and Parmesan cheese.
Given that the vegetables in this salad will be eaten raw, (or virtually raw in the case of the asparagus), it’s important that they are young and fresh. Violetti di San Erasmo may not be easy to find outside of the Rialto market, but other small Italian varieties of artichoke work equally well – try Ligurian spiny artichokes for instance, or any type picked sufficiently young that the furry ‘choke’ at the centre of the thistle has yet to develop.
- 4 Violetti di San Erasmo artichokes (or similar)
- 12 young asparagus spears
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons of good quality truffle infused extra virgin olive oil
- 2 small lemons – juice only
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 30g Parmesan cheese – finely shaved
- 1 small black truffle, either fresh, vacuum-packed, or under oil – finely shaved (optional)
First, prepare the artichokes by removing all the outer leaves until you are left with only the tender heart and inner leaves.
Next, using a small paring knife, scrape down the stalks of the artichokes, removing the outer layer from these. Trim the stalks so that they finish approximately 1cm below the base of the artichoke.
The prepared artichokes will rapidly discolour if left exposed to the air for long. To prevent this, prepare an acidulated water bath by squeezing the juice of one lemon into a small bowl of water. Once you have removed the outer leaves of each artichoke, and cleaned and trimmed the stem, pop it directly in the water bath. You can even rub a little lemon juice on the artichoke directly prior to placing in the water bath to be extra certain that it will not discolour.
Next, boil a pot of water, ready to blanch the asparagus. While you are waiting for this to reach temperature, also prepare an ice bath in which to immediately cool the asparagus after blanching.
Slice off the tough bottom section (2cm or so) from the base of the asparagus spears, then, once the water is boiling rapidly, add these to blanch for 1 minute. Drain in a colander, and transfer directly to the ice bath to halt the cooking process.
Once cooled, remove the asparagus from the ice bath and carefully pat dry with a clean tea towel.
Next, shave each spear lengthways into thin strips using a peeler. Hold on to the base of the spear to do this and peel towards the tip, turning the spear over when you reach the centre.
Once you have peeled all the spears into long strips, gather together and cut these in half widthways, (shorter sections will make for easier eating in the finished salad).
Next, prepare to poach the eggs by half filling a small saucepan with water, adding the vinegar, and placing this over high heat.
While waiting for the poaching water to boil, return to the artichokes. If the ones you are using are not ideally tender, it may be necessary to first remove the furry choke from the centre of each artichoke before proceeding to thinly slice. To do this, slice in half lengthways and scoop out the centres using a pointed teaspoon or similar.
Next, finely slice the artichokes, and drizzle immediately with lemon juice. Then, add to a bowl, along with the shaved asparagus, ready to dress.
Prepare the eggs by gently breaking the first of these into a glass or cup. Then, once the water in your saucepan is boiling rapidly, take a spoon and swirl to create a whirlpool in the water. Gently slip the egg from the glass into the centre of the whirlpool, and continue to stir carefully until all the wispy egg white has surrounded and clung to the yoke.
Cook for two minutes in total for a soft centre, then remove using a slotted spoon. Drain on some kitchen paper, and repeat for the second egg.
Once the eggs are cooked, dress the asparagus and artichokes with the truffle oil and juice of half a lemon. Add some sea salt, along with a generous grind of pepper.
To serve, arrange the salad on two plates, and top with the warm poached eggs, sprinkling a little extra salt directly on top of these. Follow with a scattering of Parmesan, and, saving the best for last, some thin shavings of black truffle.