A few weeks ago, Jackie and I, along with a few friends, ate boiled beef for dinner. While it’s easy to think of this as wintry, it is in fact a light dish – drizzled with nothing more than its flavorful broth and (depending on what meat you choose) low in visible fat. So, with the New York weather at the time oscillating between 80-degree swelter and 55-degree chill, it seemed a safe choice for anything the elements might treat us to.
We served our beef with condiments like those offered with boiled meats in northern Italy. One of these is salsa verde, many variations on which I’ve written about over the years. This is a versatile sludge of herbs, olive oil and acidic things such as capers, cornichons, mustard and vinegar. I smear it on sandwiches (corned beef!), mix it into the makings of fishcakes and use it as a multi-dimensional condiment/sauce with poached or roasted meat or fish. My version almost always includes dill among the herbs – not entirely traditional in Italy, but not unheard-of, and a real asset.
But I’d never thought to pour it over a salad (possibly because we rarely eat leafy salads). There were, however, leftovers from that dinner, and we had room-temperature beef, sliced thin, with assorted assertive-tasting greens dressed with the remaining salsa verde thinned with additional olive oil. It was complex and delicious in flavor, and I actually looked forward to another salad opportunity.
A few days later, we served breaded fried schnitzels of excellent chicken. Typically, I like a Germanic potato-and-cucumber salad with schnitzel – dressed with walnut oil and cider vinegar and finished with dill. But the (unrelated) fish-potato-asparagus recipe I described last time used the same blend of herbs and reminded me that potatoes and asparagus are a grand pairing with an affinity for those herbs. It was only a short leap from a handful of chopped parsley, dill and mint back to a full-fleshed salsa verde: an entirely logical leap, since its oil and its salty, vinegary ingredients add up to something very much like an elaborate vinaigrette.
It might have been too much for a potato-cucumber salad because it would have masked the cucumbers’ aroma. But the asparagus – left slightly crunchy – stood up to all those strong flavors bravely. (The same salsa verde would be excellent with potatoes alone if you wanted to pass on the asparagus.)
Make the salsa verde. In a food processor pulse the capers, cornichons, anchovy, mustard, vinegar and oil, scraping down the bowl as needed, until everything is finely chopped but not pureed.
Add the herbs and continue processing until a loose sludge forms; add additional oil if necessary.
Peel the potatoes and the asparagus stalks, rinse thoroughly, and cut both into 3/8-inch slices. If your potatoes are large, first cut them in two lengthwise then crosswise into semicircles. If using the asparagus tips, leave these whole.
Steam the potatoes until tender. Depending on the variety, this could take 8 minutes or it could take 12 or even 15 for a particularly dense breed. Transfer to a large bowl.
In the same steamer, steam the asparagus until crisp-tender, about 90 seconds to 2 minutes. Add to the bowl.
While the vegetables are still warm, but not hot, thoroughly fold in the salsa verde with a rubber spatula and check for salt (even with the capers, pickles and mustard it will almost certainly need some). You may also need to add even more oil if the salad seems too dry.
Transfer to a more presentable serving bowl if you like. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes before serving, or it can be made 30 or 40 minutes in advance.