Planting a bed of asparagus will try your patience. You must wait three years before you harvest a spear, to give the plants time to strengthen and grow. This is my new bed’s third year, and I’m whacking down fat spears like Achilles slaying Trojans.
What’s for dinner? Most nights, asparagus. I steam and plate them with sea salt and lemon. I pan-grill them with olive oil, sea salt and lemon and serve them with poached eggs. I eat them raw as a snack. And one evening, I roasted them with potatoes, peppers, salmon and olive oil on a sheet pan. The salmon sheet pan supper is my favorite way to prepare asparagus so far.
Cooking an entire meal on a baking sheet is enjoying a wave of popularity. I like the idea because roasted vegetables taste great, and using just one pan makes cleanup easy. What I don’t like is cooking everything at once, for the same amount of time. The solution is to add ingredients in stages, according to how long they will take to cook.
That’s what I did with my sheet pan salmon. I also cut the vegetables into small dice so they would cook evenly and quickly. The potatoes and peppers, which take longer to roast than asparagus, were cut into 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch pieces, respectively. The asparagus was cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths on the bias. They all went into the oven at the same time, glossed with olive oil and spread on a sheet pan.
When the vegetables were almost done, I nudged them into a pile about the size and shape of my salmon fillet. The fish went on top of the vegetables and everything was returned to the oven for 10 more minutes, until the fish was barely translucent in the center.
Fish should not be cooked until completely opaque all the way through, because it continues to cook off the heat. Leaving a bit of rawness in the center will result in a perfectly cooked fish at the table.
To amp up the flavor of the meal, I squeezed fresh lemon juice over the vegetables before serving, and slathered the fish with lemon-dill mayonnaise before roasting. The mayo mixture puffed and browned in the oven, providing just enough creamy sauce and bright flavor to complement the fish.
I used a large salmon fillet for this recipe, but individual fillets of salmon or even cod would work, too. I’ll probably even make the dish with boneless, pounded chicken breasts before spring is over. That asparagus just keeps on coming.
ROAST LEMON-DILL SALMON AND ASPARAGUS
1 1/4 lb. salmon fillet (1 large or 4 individual)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh dill
1 red bell pepper, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
2 medium potatoes, cut in 1/4-inch cubes (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 to 3/4 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut on the bias into 1 1/2-inch lengths
1 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Pat salmon dry and set aside. In a small bowl or custard cup, beat together mayonnaise, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and dill. Set aside.
Combine bell pepper, potatoes and asparagus on a baking sheet. Toss with enough olive oil to gloss the vegetables and oil the pan. Season with salt. Spread in a single layer and bake uncovered at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes, until tender and edges are beginning to brown, stirring once. Remove from oven and nudge vegetables into a mound about the shape of the fish fillet.
Place fish on top of vegetables, skin side down. Spread mayonnaise mixture over fish. Return to oven and bake 10 to 12 minutes, until salmon is almost cooked through. Test the fish by cutting into the thickest part with the point of a knife.
Place fish on a platter or divide among four dinner plates. Toss vegetables with remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Surround fish with vegetables. Makes 4 servings.
Long, slow smoking and a vinegar-based swab make City Barbeque’s pulled pork some of the best I’ve had. The new eatery at 2870 W. Market St. in Fairlawn also had great sides when Tony and I visited. Can corn pudding get any creamier, or hush puppies crisper? I doubt it.
Then again, we dined on VIP night, before the restaurant was officially open. On our way elsewhere last Saturday, we saw the lights and cars, pulled in, and on our way to the door two exiting diners jammed some invitations into our hands. The free VIP night was held not only to get the word out but to serve as a dress rehearsal for the new staff. You can bet everything was fresh and well prepared, with all the bosses riding herd that night. Will the food be as good on a normal day? We’ll find out.
The Fairlawn restaurant is the latest location of a fast-growing chain that began in Columbus in 1999. For a barbecue joint it is fairly large, with dozens of seats indoors as well as on a patio. Patrons order at one end of a long counter and pick up their trays at the other end. The decor is all steel and wood, with clean lines and few frills. It’s kind of an uptown roll-of-paper-towels-on-the-table place.
The two big smokers built into a back wall handle pork roasts, pork ribs, chicken, beef brisket, sausage and turkey. They are served straight up with two sides, in sandwiches, and the turkey also comes in a salad. I like the generous selection of sides: fresh-cut fries, potato salad, mac and cheese, lettuce salad, green beans with bacon, coleslaw, tender collard greens deeply flavored and studded with chunks of pork (my favorite), baked beans with pieces of brisket, cornbread, and the corn pudding and hush puppies mentioned above.
Prices are about average for local barbecue. The pulled pork dinner is $7.29. A half slab of ribs is $12.99. Brisket with peppers and onions, smoked provolone and horseradish sauce on grilled Texas toast is $8.29.
I think I need one of those brisket sandwiches real soon. For hours and other info, go to www.citybbq.com.
What I cooked last week:
Baked salmon with lemon-dill sauce, roast cubed potatoes, red bell pepper and asparagus; soft-scrambled eggs with dill and avocado; steamed asparagus with lemon and sea salt.
What I ate in restaurants last week:
Queso fundido with chips and pork tacos al pastore at Nuevo Modern Mexican in downtown Akron; pulled pork topped with slaw, hush puppies, collard greens, corn pudding at City Barbeque in Fairlawn; an egg roll and Mussaman curry with chicken at Thai Pattaya Restaurant in the Portage Lakes area of Akron; strawberry and coffee sugar-free frozen yogurt from Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt in Fairlawn (a Mother’s Day treat from Tony that he bought and hid in the basement freezer).
Thank you for calling attention to a favorite of mine, the California Long White potato. I discovered it while at the University of Idaho in the early ‘70s. Raised in Akron on Ramsayer potatoes from Wooster, I hated cooking with Idaho’s dry russets, so different in every way. The Long Whites were so similar to Ohio’s, save only for their very thin skins, that I was again able to cook the dishes I loved.
I have only recently been able to find the California Long Whites identified as such during their season, in Kreiger’s and at Szalay’s. Do you know of other sources you can share?
I think I have gotten them at Acme, although I’m not sure they were labeled as such. And I am pretty sure you can find them at West Side Market in Cleveland. The label isn’t essential if you know what you’re looking for — good-sized beige potatoes with a skin so thin it curls away in places, like a peeling suntan.