SPRING IS HERE!
The calendar says Spring...March 21 equinox (and September equinox): a usage becoming the preferred standard by technical writers choosing to avoid Northern Hemisphere bias (implied by assuming that March is in the springtime and September is autumnal—true for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere but exactly opposite for our fellow earthlings in the Southern Hemisphere) But all I want to know, here in the Northern Hemisphere, is, where are my local farmers' asparagus?
There are so many foods and images that remind us that Spring in the Northern Hemisphere at least is here or on its way. My favorite foods in Spring begin with the availability of locally grown asparagus and proteins such as salmon and lamb are also reminiscent of Spring, even though they are available year round.
It has always been my philosophy that it is best to enjoy produce that come to market in season - locally grown or grown as close to where you live as is possible! On a rare "almost warm" day in late February with temperatures in the 50s, I looked beneath the plastic sheeting covering the pots on my lanai - only to find, much to my surprise, green sprouting chives! I cleared out the dead foliage and made room for the new chive growth to flourish. We may not be totally over freezing temps at night, so I have replaced the plastic sheeting until later in March.
The photo on the left are really the first sign of Spring (well, except for my chives!) they are called Ramps - or wild leeks which used to be available only at farmers' markets, but last Spring I also found them in upscale food stores in NYC. I like them sautéed in a bit of olive oil, salt & pepper and used as a side dish or as a bed for grilled salmon - green leaves and all. Leaves and white bulbs can also be used in a stir fry or added to soups or raw in a salad coarsely chopped.
That's one of the many reasons why shopping at a farmer's market is my favorite activity to look forward to as Spring arrives. It's just glorious to be able to buy and eat asparagus spears cut that morning or at the latest the day before; bunches of ramps; peas in their pods ready to be eaten raw or shelled and just briefly blanched in boiling salted water. I'm fortunate to be able to shop at the famous Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan that provides New Yorkers with a bounty of locally grown produce and other foods.
2011 SPRING MENU
Pea and Asparagus
In a large pot, bring chicken
stock to a simmer; reduce heat and keep on low. Heat olive oil in a
heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add asparagus pieces and sauté for 3
minutes; remove asparagus to a plate and reserve. Add peas and
sauté for 2 minutes; remove peas and reserve with asparagus. Add
more oil if pan looks dry and sauté shallots until they are softened.
Add rice and coat with the oil and shallots. Begin adding hot
stock 1 cup at a time and stir constantly until liquid is absorbed with
each addition of stock. Rice should become tender, yet still
firm to the bite and the mixture should be creamy. Cooking time
should be approximately 25 minutes. With the last addition of
stock to the rice, add the reserved asparagus and peas. When the last
addition of stock has been absorbed, stir in grated cheese and parsley.
Taste and adjust seasoning with ground white pepper and salt if desired.
Yield: 6 servings
Combine glaze ingredients in a medium saucepan. Boil until reduced to 1/3 cup about 15 minutes. Season glaze to taste with salt & pepper.
Prepare a charcoal, gas or heat a stovetop grill
pan to medium heat. Brush salmon with
olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill salmon flesh side down first until
just opaque in center; turn and grill on the other side about 5 minutes
per side. Transfer salmon fillets to a platter and drizzle glaze
*If wild caught salmon is not available, my next choice is Norwegian or Irish farmed salmon.
Yield: 6 servings
Allow 3 baby carrots per serving (18) and 3 yellow baby pattypan squash per serving (18) and allow 6 Haricots Verts green beans per serving (36). Peel baby carrots and trip the ends leaving some of the green stalk for appearances. Baby pattypan squash should not need any trimming, but if the ends and tips are dried, trim them. Trim the stem end of the baby zucchini.
Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil. Add enough sea salt to season the water. Have a large bowl of ice and water ready to "shock" the vegetables when they are finished cooking. Add the vegetables one variety at a time to the boiling water- boil baby carrots for approximately 3 minutes; remove carrots and dunk into the ice water. Add baby pattypan squash and baby zucchini to the boiling water and cook for approximately 3 minutes - test for doneness and add 1 minute to cooking time if necessary. Transfer cooked pattypan to the ice water.
When all vegetables have been cooled in the ice water, remove them to a strainer lined with paper towel. Remove as much of the water from the vegetables as you can. Transfer blanched vegetables to a holding platter. Cover with plastic wrap.
To re-heat vegetables, melt two tablespoons of unsalted butter in a large skillet. When butter is hot and foaming has subsided, add the blanched vegetables, sprinkled with finely minced garlic and a pinch of sea salt and ground black pepper. Sauté vegetables until heated through, to serve immediately.
Yield: 6 servings
Note: Vegetables cooked in this manner can be prepared in the morning. Store in a covered dish in the refrigerator until needed and re-heat as directed above.
(double the recipe to have sufficient lemon curdto fill six 4-inch tart shells)
Heat butter with lemon zest in top of a double boiler over hot water. When butter has melted, stir in sugar and strained juice of 2 lemons and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Remove double boiler pot from the hot water.
Beat eggs in a bowl and gradually whisk in the hot butter/eggs/lemon juice mixture; strain mixture into the top of the double boiler and stir over moderate heat until the mixture thickens to the consistency of soft whipped cream. Pour into a clean jar or deep dish and let cool before eating.
Yield: approx. 1 pound - Source: English Country Cooking at Its Best, Caroline Conran Villard Books 1985
NUT TART CRUST
(double the recipe to make enough dough for 6 individual tart shells)
In the bowl of a food processor, mix flour and sugar with chopped nuts using 2 or 3 on/off turns. Cut in the butter using the steel blade, again using the on/off button for 5 - 6 turns. Add the egg and mix again until the egg is incorporated. Remove dough mixture fit one 10-inch tart pan or 6 individual 4-inch tart pans with removable bottoms, evenly spreading and molding the dough to the bottom and sides of the 6 tart pans.
Blind-bake tarts on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for approximately 20 minutes. Check to see how crust is browning at about 15 minutes and continue cooking if tarts are not yet lightly browned. Remove from oven and allow tart shells to cool on a rack in their pans and then remove the tart shells to individual serving dishes.
Spoon prepared and cooled Lemon Curd into each tart shell. Dust with powdered sugar if desired. You can also garnish each lemon curd tart with a thin slice of fresh lemon, a sprig of mint or a candied violet.
Yield: 6 servings