When I was a boy, maybe 9 or 10 years old, my mother took me to the King of Prussia Mall in Philadelphia to do some shopping of some sort. The strangest and most wonderful thing happened on that trip. As we were leaving, exiting through Macy’s, we turned a corner in the housewares department and my mother suddenly hesitated and inhaled sharply. She leaned in close and said, “Christopher, do you know who that is,” with obvious excitement in her voice.
Though I felt I should have, I didn’t quite recognize him. “That’s Jacque Pepin,” she said. Wide-eyed, we approached one of the most accomplished chefs of all time. He was sitting beside a small table upon which sat several dozen copies of his most recent book, Today’s Gourmet. He greeted us with the effortless warmth that emanated from his round, gentle, and inviting face. My mother was swooning (she had always been a fan of his cooking show on PBS, especially those shows he did alongside Julia Child) but she managed to make an introduction on my tongue-tied behalf. She explained to him, with the kind of hyperbole only a proud parent can get away with, what an accomplished young cook I was myself.
We made star-struck small talk for a few minutes (almost unbelievably, we were the only ones there). My mother asked if we could please buy one of his new books. With a smile, he reached over, pulled one off a stack, grabbed a pen from his shirt pocket, and opened the front cover. In it he wrote, “Christopher, best of luck with your cooking! – Jacques Pepin.”
At least I’m pretty sure that’s what it says. I haven’t seen the book in several years ever since it mysteriously disappeared during a temporary stay in one of my sibling’s kitchens. It’s a grudge I’ll have to hang on to for quite a bit longer, I think.
Many wonderful recipes came from that book, including Poulet au Vin Rouge (his modern take on the classic Coq au Vin) and some strawberry, pistachio, and meringue combination that I could never get quite right. One of his recipes that was impossible to mess up and has become a go-to side dish in my kitchen, was a cold salad of asparagus, whole-grain Dijon mustard, olive oil, and salt and pepper. His original recipe was my direct inspiration for this tasty variation of cold asparagus salad. No measuring needed, just taste and adjust. I hope he approves.
Cold Asparagus Salad with Mustard and Bacon
1. Start by making lardons, which are commonly used in french cuisine and pictured below. In this recipe we are using our homemade bacon which we talk about here and here but you can use whatever you have on hand. Cut your bacon into small strips or cubes and cook until crisp.
2. Stem the asparagus by NOT cutting the ends but by snapping each where they break naturally on their own.
3. Blanch the asparagus in a large pot of well-salted water. Once bright and tender but still firm, move to an ice bath to stop the cooking and get cold.
4. Take asparagus out and dry on paper towel. Look at the vibrant green color!
5. In small bunches, cut asparagus on the bias into 1.5” to 2” pieces. Add to a mixing bowl.
6. Add remaining ingredients, except for the oil, and mix to combine.
7. Add a few healthy dashes of olive oil. Toss, adjust seasoning, and toss again.
- Dijon mustard
- extra virgin olive oil
- onion, thinly sliced into half-rounds
- bacon lardons, cooked crisp
- flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- kosher salt
- freshly-cracked black pepper
- Start by making lardons, which are commonly used in french cuisine. In this recipe we are using our homemade bacon but you can use whatever you have on hand. Cut your back into small strips or cubes and cook until crisp.
- Stem the asparagus by NOT cutting the ends but by snapping each where they break naturally on their own.
- Blanch the asparagus in a large pot of well-salted water. Once bright and tender, move to an ice bath to stop cooking and get cold.
- Take asparagus out and dry on paper towel.
- In small bunches, cut asparagus on the bias into 1.5” to 2” pieces. Add to a mixing bowl.
- Add remaining ingredients, except for the oil, and mix to combine.
- Add a few healthy dashes of olive oil. Toss, adjust seasoning, and toss again.
- Serve cold as a delicious side dish to just about anything and enjoy!
Danielle and I enjoyed this recipe many times while we were completing our Whole30 journey. It was also a great recipe to share with friends who came over for dinner while we were on plan. In fact, our friend called the next week to ask for the recipe because she could not stop thinking about it! And don’t let the idea of this just being a dinner side dish fool you, Danielle also enjoys any leftovers from this Cold Asparagus Salad the next morning with her eggs.
Do you have a childhood memory of meeting someone famous? What do you think about a new spin on classic recipes?