– by Jakob Anderson, Food Writer –
Can you smell it? Spring is right around the corner and that means fresh local produce is back (for most of us. Shush you in the southern states). The early spring harvest provides all sorts of delicious offerings such as asparagus, leeks, peas, fava beans, ramps, garlic scapes, strawberries and of course rhubarb. All of these ingredients provide meals with a sense of elegance and beauty. Enough with the poetry, I know you want to eat. So here are three interesting ways to use that fresh spring produce!
1.Asparagus Soup with Pistachio and Orange Chimichurri
1 bundle of asparagus, standard size, trimmed and chopped small
1 leek, chopped small, don’t use the really fibrous top part
3 cloves garlic, chopped small
1 cup heavy cream (35% and up)
1L chicken stock
1 squeeze of fresh lime juice
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp butter
1 cup basil leaves
1/2 cup parsley leaves
1 cup pistachios
Juice from 1 orange
Zest from 1 orange (use the same orange, people)
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt to taste
In a large pot, sweat leek and garlic on low heat with butter. Add asparagus about 5 minutes later and continue sweating vegetables. Add white wine vinegar and scrape bottom of pot. Add cream, stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then simmer for roughly 10 minutes, until asparagus is cooked through. Add the squeeze of lime juice and transfer soup to blender, puréeing until smooth. Return soup to pot and clean the blender (we need it again).
For chimichurri, add all ingredients to blender except olive oil. Pulse until you have thick, grainy paste (you will have to scrape the sides a couple of times to achieve this). Slowly add olive oil while blending on low. Place soup in bowl and top with a dollop of chimichurri.
2. Silky Pea and Ricotta Baguette with Enoki Mushrooms
This is a colorful, easy dish to whip up to impress a large crowd.
4 cups freshly shucked peas or frozen (unless you are very confident in your source for fresh peas, use frozen)
4 cloves garlic, chopped small (if you can get you hands on garlic scapes, use 3)
2 cups fresh basil
2 cups ricotta (the firm stuff)
1/4 cup butter
Squeeze of lemon juice
2 packages or bundles enoki mushrooms
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large artisan baguette
Optional garnishes (mint, tarragon, bacon, nuts)
Heat butter in pan on medium, add garlic, salt, pepper and sweat them lightly. Add peas and cook for about 5 minutes if fresh, 2-3 if frozen. Add this mixture to a blender with ricotta, basil and lemon juice. For mushrooms, sear quickly in a pan with oil on high heat. These take no time to cook, 3 minutes max. Slice baguette into desired size, smear pea mixture on and then top with mushrooms. For additional garnishes you can try out some of the suggestions I listed above. A splash of quality olive oil would be nice as well.
3. Roasted Rhubarb, Dried Strawberries, Hazelnuts and Goat Yogurt
This is what spring is all about. Fresh, bright and healthy. This dessert will have you feeling energized and refreshed.
3 large rhubarb stalks, cut into 3-inch chunks
2 Tbsp raw honey
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup dried strawberries, halved
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 cup water
2 cups plain goat yogurt (you can use Greek yogurt or labneh, but make an effort to find goat)
Zest and juice from 1 orange
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped in thin strips
Heat oven to 350ºF. In a small pot combine dried strawberries, honey, vanilla, cinnamon, cloves and water. Bring to a boil and reduce by 1/3. Toss rhubarb in this mixture and roast in oven for 20 minutes. You still want the rhubarb to have some teeth and not be mushy. Mix yogurt with orange juice and zest. Place yogurt in bowls, top with rhubarb, hazelnuts, mint and additional honey if you wish!
Jakob Anderson is a trained cook and food enthusiast who approaches cooking as something that connects people in ways they don’t realize: “I love talking about food, eating food, thinking food, discussing food, debating food, think about debating food, fooding food? I love food.”
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