Asparagus and Feta with Mint
- 1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 pounds asparagus, woody ends removed (about 2 bunches)
- 4 cups torn croutons
- 24 large mint leaves
- 3 ounces feta cheese
- Double Batch Red Wine Vinaigrette (See recipe below)
- 1 pound loaf day -old country or sourdough bread
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Red Wine Vinaigrette
- 1 tablespoon shallot, finely sliced
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- fresh ground pepper
- Set a large pot of water on to boil over high heat. Season it with salt until it tastes like the summer sea. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Toss the sliced onion in a small bowl with the vinegar and let sit for 20 minutes to macerate. Set aside.
- If the asparagus is thicker than a pencil, stripey peel it, pressing lightly with a vegetable peeler to remove only the outermost skin from about 1 inch below the blossom to the base. Slice the asparagus into 1 1/2-inch-long pieces on a bias. Blanch the asparagus in boiling water until it's just tender, about 3 1/2 minutes (less for thinner stalks). Taste a piece to determine doneness- it should still have the faintest crunch in the center. Drain and allow to cool in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets.
- Place half of the croutons in a large salad bowl and toss with 1/3 cup of vinaigrette. Let sit for 10 minutes.
- Add the remaining croutons, asparagus, and macerated onions (but not their vinegar, yet). Tear in the the mint leaves in small pieces. Crumble in the feta in large pieces. Dress with another 1/3 cup vinaigrette and season with salt, then taste. Adjust seasoning with salt, vinaigrette, and the macerating vinegar as needed. Toss, taste again, and serve at room temperature.
- Refrigerate leftovers, covered, for up to 1 night.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. For more tooth-friendly croutons, remove the crusts from the bread, then cut the loaf into inch-thick slices. Cut each slice into inch-wide strips. Working in a large bowl, tear croutons directly off the loaf, as long as you get somewhat evenly sized pieces - I find that preslicing speeds up the whole process and yields even, yet rustic-looking croutons, so it's my preferred method.
- Toss the croutons with olive oil and 2 cloves of finely grated garlic, 1 tablespoon dried oregano and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes to coat them evenly. Spread them out on a single layer on the baking sheet. Use a second sheet as needed to prevent crowding, which will entrap steam and keep the croutons from browning.
- Toast the croutons for about 18 to 22 minutes, checking them after 8 minutes. rotate the pans, switch their oven positions, and use a metal spatula to turn and rotate the croutons so they brown evenly. Once they begin to brown, check them every few minutes continuing to turn and rotate. Some croutons might be done when others still need a few more minutes of baking, so remove them from the tray and let the rest finish cooking. Bake the croutons until they are golden brown and crunchy on the outside, with just a tiny bit of chew on the inside.
- Taste a crouton and adjust the seasoning with a light sprinkling of salt if needed. When done, let the croutons cool in a single layer on the baking sheet. Use immediately or keep in an airtight container for up to 2 days. To refresh stale croutons, bake for 3 to 4 minutes at 400 degrees.
Red Wine Vinaigrette
- In a small bowl or jar, let the shallot sit in the vinegar for 15 minutes to macerate then add the olive oil, a generous pinch of salt, and a small pinch of pepper. Stir or shake to combine, then taste with a leaf of lettuce and adjust salt and acid as needed. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.