Spring has sprung, and asparagus is everywhere. The farmer’s market stalls are lined with pointy green bundles, and every supermarket I’ve been to this month has asparagus on display. If you’re looking for seasonal green stuff to experiment with, this is your prime suspect right now.
Truth be told, asparagus is not my favorite vegetable. I like the flavor just fine, but there’s something about the soft crunch of the stalks that doesn’t appeal to me. My favorite way to eat asparagus is not whole, or even chopped, but shaved. With a vegetable peeler and a few minutes’ work, you can turn the rubbery stalks into pale ribbon-like strands, thin enough that light shines through them. Instead of crunchy, the strands are silky and soft, and the flavor seems softer and more floral, somehow.
Recently, I hit on a particularly nice combination: shaved asparagus, thin-sliced leeks and mustard on whole-grain flatbread. The flavors play gorgeously together–grassy asparagus, sweet leek, spicy mustard, nutty grains. After baking and topping the flatbread, I ran it under the broiler for a few minutes, just to char the asparagus for a little smoky crunch. It took a little experimenting to strike the right balance of textures–crisp on the bottom, chewy and soft in the middle, ribbony on top–but now that I’ve got it, it must be shared.
I kept this simple–and, incidentally, vegan–so there’s nothing really holding the topping onto the flatbread. It’s a little delicate to cut into. If you wanted more of a sturdy topping, you could grate a little smoked gouda over the asparagus. But I like it just the way it is–simple and springy and loaded with vegetable flavor.
If you think you don’t like asparagus, then this is the asparagus recipe for you.
Asparagus, Leek and Mustard Flatbread (serves 4-6 as an appetizer)
1 cup whole wheat flour (for a gluten-free version, use chickpea flour or finely ground cornmeal)
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water, or as needed
3 tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
6-8 asparagus stalks, washed but not trimmed
1/2 of a leek, white and light green parts only, washed and sliced crosswise
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp dijon or spicy brown mustard
Special equipment: a 12-inch oven-safe skillet
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Add water a little at a time, whisking to break up any lumps, until you have a smooth, thin batter. You may end up using a little more or less water. Cover the bowl with a towel and let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to 12 hours–the longer, the better.
While the batter sits, prep the asparagus: cut off the floret tips and cut each floret in half. Use a vegetable peeler to shave the asparagus stems into thin strips (I found it easiest to lay the asparagus flat at the edge of a cutting board and hold onto the untrimmed end). Toss the shaved asparagus and the leek slices with a drizzle of oil and some salt and pepper, and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 450º F. Heat olive oil in the skillet on a burner over medium-high heat, until the oil is hot but not quite smoking. Pour the batter into the skillet, transfer the skillet to the oven, and bake for 25-35 minutes, or until the flatbread is firm and just starting to brown around the edges.
Remove the skillet from the oven and turn on the broiler. If there are any bubbles in the flatbread, prick them with a knife and flatten them out. Spread the mustard on the flatbread, then distribute the asparagus and leeks evenly over the top. Return the skillet to the top rack of the oven and broil for 3-5 minutes, or until the asparagus and leek slices are lightly charred.
Remove from the oven and let sit for a few minutes before slicing into wedges. Serve warm.