In typical early spring fashion, the weather waffles between cold and warm; wet and dry; raw and pleasant. But the season’s savory flavors don’t.
It is a time of the year when vegetables awaken from their deep winter slumber fresh and tender, and burst with flavor and color. When they are morphed into savory tarts, salads, dressings and purées, they are simply irresistible.
Asparagus may be available year-round but the vegetable is at its best now. When buying, remember that slender spears are not necessarily better; they are only younger and more tender. Fatter spears can be more succulent. Roasting the vegetable brings out its complexity — the sugar caramelizes and an ever so slight bitterness emerges. If you want to go the classic French route, poach asparagus and serve it cold.
Radishes provide some of the first color splash of spring. The early-season ones have a milder, more peppery flavor than the ones grown in summer, and are perfect for a raw-vegetable platter or to top a mixed salad. When preparing them, wash and trim root ends just before using. For a crisper bite, soak radishes in ice water for a couple of hours.
New potatoes, the freshly dug young tubers with a delicate skin whose sugars have not yet been converted into starch, are wondrous when roasted in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil, a good sprinkling of salt and pepper and fresh herbs such as dill or thyme. Or simply boil them with a little salt and slightly smash them for a chickpea, egg and potato salad.
Tender baby spinach not only adds a verdant splash on a rainy day, but also brings flavor to the table when sautéed with sesame oil and crushed garlic. Or combine spinach with romaine lettuce for a spring salad.
Frozen peas are omnipresent year-round but opt for the fresh ones that are available now as, after all, their season is fleeting. However, keep in mind that they should be consumed soon after being picked because the natural sugars in them turn to starch. In addition to the obvious choice — soup — peas can be use in purées and served with roast chicken or pork, or even savory pancakes.
The best way to let early spring vegetables shine is to blanch or steam them, then toss them with a little butter or olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper. Or dress them up, however you prefer.
Asparagus and Goat Cheese Tart
Serves 8 to 10.
Note: Adapted from “Cooking With Cheese,” by Ryland, Peters and Small.
• 6 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
• 1 1/2 c. flour
• Pinch of sea salt flakes
• 2 to 3 tbsp. ice cold water
• 7 eggs
• 1 c. heavy cream
• 3/4 c. sour cream
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 1 1/2 c. goat cheese
• 1 medium white onion, diced
• 12 asparagus spears, ends removed
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
To make pastry: Place butter, flour and salt in a food processor and pulse mixture for 20 to 40 seconds, until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Add 2 to 3 tablespoons ice cold water slowly, and mix until dough comes together. Don’t overmix. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Roll dough out as thinly as possible on a lightly floured surface. Line 9-inch fluted tart pan with the pastry and prick base all over with a fork.
Place on baking sheet, line with greased parchment paper slightly larger than the pan and fill with baking beans.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove baking beans and parchment paper and return pastry to oven for 5 to 10 minutes more, or until it is pale golden and cooked through. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
To make filling: In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, heavy cream and sour cream. Season with salt and pepper, then gently mix in goat cheese and onion. Pour mixture into tart, distributing it evenly.
Lay asparagus spears in a single layer on top of filling, alternating heads and tails, and gently push them into the tart.
Bake for about 1 hour, or until golden and just set. Serve hot or cold.
Nutrition information per each of 10 servings:
Calories 350 Fat 26 g Sodium 180 mg
Carbohydrates 18 g Saturated fat 15 g Total sugars 2 g
Protein 12 g Cholesterol 190 mg Dietary fiber 1 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 1 carb, 1 ½ medium-fat protein, 3 ½ fat.
Spinach and Romaine Salad
Note: The creamy dressing with shallots and mint complements the salad so well that it will have you craving more. From Southern Living magazine.
• 1 (5-oz.) package baby spinach
• 2 romaine lettuce hearts, chopped
• 2 cucumbers, cut in 1-in. pieces
• 1 c. thinly sliced radishes
• 1 shallot, minced
• 1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
• 3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
• 1/4 c. sour cream
• 1 c. half-and-half
• 1/2 c. fresh mint, chopped, plus leaves for garnish
• 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
• 1/8 tsp. black pepper
• 1/2 c. crumbled feta cheese
Toss together spinach, romaine, cucumbers and radishes in large bowl.
Stir together shallot, vinegar and lemon juice in a medium bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Stir in sour cream and gradually whisk in half-and-half. Stir in chopped mint, salt and black pepper.
Top greens mixture with feta cheese; garnish with mint leaves and serve with dressing.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 135 Fat 10 g Sodium 270 mg
Carbohydrates 9 g Saturated fat 6 g Total sugars 5 g
Protein 5 g Cholesterol 30 mg Dietary fiber 3 g
Exchanges per serving: 2 vegetable, 2 fat.
Lemon Chicken With Fried Capers
Note: From “Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101,” by Sara Moulton.
• 1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast cutlets, thinly sliced
• 1/4 c. plus 1 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
• 3 tbsp. capers, rinsed, drained, dried
• Flour for dredging
• 1/8 tsp. chili powder
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• 1 large lemon, sliced thin crosswise
• 2 tbsp. sugar
• 2 shallots, minced
• 1 1/4 c. chicken stock
Pound chicken flat, pat dry and cut in pieces in half if they are too large.
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat and then add capers. Stir until they are crisp (they do pop, so be careful), about 2 minutes. Transfer capers to a small bowl.
Mix flour and chili powder on a plate. Add 2 tablespoons oil to skillet and heat it over medium-high.
Season chicken with salt and pepper on both sides and coat pieces lightly with flour, shaking off the excess.
Add chicken to oil, and cook until lightly golden, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to plate.
Dip lemon slices in sugar, coating them on both sides, and add to skillet. Cook over medium heat until they are lightly caramelized, about 1 to 2 minutes each side. Transfer to plate with chicken.
Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to skillet and shallots, stirring for about 2 minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.
Return chicken and lemon slices to the pan, along with any juices from the plate. Simmer gently, turning the chicken over several times until it is heated through.
Transfer chicken and lemon to plates and simmer sauce until it has thickened slightly. Spoon sauce and lemon slices over chicken and top with fried capers. Serve with pea purée (recipe below).
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 360 Fat 21 g Sodium 290 mg
Carbohydrates 15 g Saturated fat 4 g Total sugars 8 g
Protein 28 g Cholesterol 70 mg Dietary fiber 1 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 carb, 4 lean protein, 2 ½ fat.
Sweet Pea Purée
Note: This sweet and spicy purée with a hint of mint radiates with spring flavor and color. It complements sautéed chicken, flaky crabcakes or pan-seared tilapia.
• 8 oz. frozen green peas, thawed
• 1/2 c. vegetable stock
• 1 tbsp. feta cheese
• 1 tbsp. fresh chopped mint
• 2 garlic cloves
• 1 green chile
• Salt to taste
Combine peas, stock, feta, mint, garlic, chile and salt in food processor; blend until smooth. Serve at room temperature.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 60 Fat 1 g Sodium 90 mg
Carbohydrates 9 g Saturated fat 1 g Total sugars 3 g
Protein 3 g Cholesterol 3 mg Dietary fiber 2 g
Exchanges per serving: 2 vegetable.
CHICKPEA, EGG AND POTATO SALAD
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: This hearty salad is best served warm; it combines nutty chickpeas, slightly smashed new potatoes with their skins, black olives and hard-cooked eggs. For a tangy dressing, use lemon juice instead of white wine vinegar. Adapted from “Appetizers,” by Ryland, Peters and Small.
• 4 tbsp. olive oil
• Juice from 1 lemon
• 1 tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
•1 garlic clove, crushed
• Salt and ground black pepper to taste, divided
• 1 lb. new potatoes
• 1 (14-oz.) can chickpeas
• Handful of pitted black olives
• 3 hard-cooked eggs
• Handful of fresh chives, chopped
For the dressing: Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and garlic. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.
For the salad: Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender. Drain, and slightly squash with back of a fork in a bowl.
Drain and rinse chickpeas. Smash a third of them slightly, then mix with remaining chickpeas and add to potatoes in bowl. Add olives and dressing; mix gently.
Transfer salad to a serving plate. Peel and chop the eggs in quarters and place them all over the salad. Sprinkle chives on top, and serve immediately.
Nutrition information per each of 6 servings:
Calories 244 Fat 14 g Sodium 190 mg
Carbohydrates 24 g Saturated fat 2 g Total sugars 3 g
Protein 8 g Cholesterol 90 mg Dietary fiber 5 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 starch, ½ carb, 1 medium-fat protein, 2 fat.