By Jenny George
This season I’m inspired by a book I’m reading—the lush, recipe-filled memoir of the great, late Southern cook Edna Lewis, who tells the story of seasonal cooking on her family’s farm. She describes a typical spring dinner menu: braised forequarter of mutton, thin-sliced skillet-fried white potatoes, skillet wild asparagus, salad of tender beet tops and lamb’s quarters garnished with chervil, yeast rolls with butter and apricot preserves, butter cookies, rhubarb pie, coffee, and—if neighbors stop by—dandelion wine. Wow! This was hearty spring dining, meant for hardworking people. With menus like that one lingering in my mind, I’ve put together a collection of dishes (featuring our local, spring products, of course) to feed you during these months. Spring is about growth and transformation, about planting and organizing and cleaning out the old stuff…and that’s hard work. So feast; feast on freshness and newness and the best the season can serve up.
Minted Jerusalem Artichoke Salad
Jerusalem artichokes aren’t really artichokes; they are a tasty tuber related to the sunflower. Raw and sliced thin, they are crisp and mild, slightly nutty and slightly sweet. They pair beautifully with mint. This salad comes from Patricia Wells’ Vegetable Harvest.
1 t. freshly squeezed lime juice
½ t. fine sea salt
¼ C. extra virgin olive oil
40 fresh mint leaves, cut into chiffonade
1 pound Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed but not peeled
2 C. lettuces (or greens such as mache or lambs quarters) rinsed and dried
In a large bowl, combine the lime juice and salt and whisk to blend. Add the oil and whisk to blend. Stir in the mint. With a mandoline or very sharp knife, cut the Jerusalem artichokes into very thin slices, dropping them immediately into the dressing. Let marinate for 10 minutes. (Do not prepare in advance or the Jerusalem artichokes will darken.) At serving time, use a slotted spoon to drain the Jerusalem artichokes and arrange them in overlapping circles at the outside edge of 4 large plates. Place the greens in the in the bowl with the remaining dressing and toss to evenly coat. Place a mound of dressed greens in the middle of each plate. Seasons lightly with more sea salt.
Apricot Refrigerator Jam
A quick and delicious use for the season’s abundance.
2½ pounds ripe apricots
3¾ C. sugar
juice of 1 lemon
Put a small plate in the freezer for testing the jam later. Peel the apricots and cut into ½-inch pieces. You should have about 6 cups. Put the apricot chunks into a medium, heavy-bottomed nonreactive pot. Stir in the sugar. Bring the apricots and sugar to a boil, lower heat to medium and boil steadily, stirring often, for 20 to 25 minutes, skimming off any foam that rises to the top. As the liquid thickens and the fruit becomes soft and translucent, start testing for consistency by putting a spoonful of jam on the chilled plate to cool down quickly. When the jam is the thickness you want, stir in the lemon juice.
Allow the jam to cool, spoon into a glass containers, and store in the fridge, sealed, for up to six months.
Edna Lewis’ Rhubarb Pie
This is a traditional rhubarb pie—basic and delicious. The rhubarb is tart, the syrup is sweet, and the crust is toasty and flaky. The recipe comes from Ms. Lewis’ The Taste of Country Cooking, a classic reissued by Knopf in 2008.
1½ C. plus 2 t. sifted flour
1 scant t. salt
¼ C. chilled lard
¼ C. cold water
2/3 C. sugar
¼ t. fresh-grated nutmeg
2 t. cornstarch
4 C. (about 1½–2 pounds) fresh rhubarb, cut into ½-inch pieces
Put 1½ cups sifted flour and the salt into a bowl, add the chilled lard and mix well with a pastry blender or with fingertips. When well blended add all of the water and mix until water is all absorbed. This will make the dough a bit sticky. Sprinkle over lightly with 2 teaspoons flour and roll into a ball. Leave to rest in a cool place for about 15 minutes.
Separate the dough into two unequal pieces. Roll out the larger piece and place it in a 9-inch pie pan. Roll out the smaller piece and cut into ¾-inch strips to make latticework. Place the strips upon a sheet of wax paper and place it, along with the pastry-lined pie pan, into the refrigerator until needed.
When ready to prepare the filling, remove pastry from the refrigerator. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Mix together well the sugar, nutmeg and cornstarch. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of this sugar mixture over bottom of pastry. Mix the rest into the rhubarb and fill the crust. Place on strips in a lattice fashion. Moisten rim of bottom crust to help the lattice strips adhere. Place the pie in the preheated oven. Total cooking time for the pie is 40 minutes.
Asparagus & Spring Onions with Buckwheat Linguine
This pasta combines the fresh, green taste of spring vegetables with the hearty chewiness of buckwheat noodles. A bowl of it makes its own meal; alongside chicken it’s a great side dish. Chervil adds something special here, but any fresh herbs will brighten the flavors at the end.
1 pound asparagus
2 spring onion bulbs
1 t. olive oil
3 T. butter
salt and pepper
1 pound buckwheat linguine
3 cloves garlic
1 C. vegetable stock
4 T. chopped herbs, such as chervil, mint, parsley and dill
half a lemon
½ pound ricotta salata cheese, crumbled
Snap off the ends of the asparagus and peel if the stalks are thick. Slice diagonally ¼ inch thick, leaving the tips whole. Trim and peel the spring onions and slice them very thin. Peel and mince the garlic. Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.
In a pan big enough for the vegetables to be sautéed, not steamed, heat the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the asparagus and the spring onions, season with salt and pepper and sauté over high heat for a few minutes, until the vegetables are slightly browned and caramelized. Cook the linguine.
When the vegetables are nearly done, add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. When the vegetables are ready, pour in the stock to deglaze the pan; add the rest of the butter off the heat, swirling to thicken the sauce. Add the chopped herbs and a squeeze of lemon. Taste for salt, pepper and lemon, and adjust if necessary. Drain the linguine, add to the vegetables and toss. Serve immediately on warm plates, garnished with ricotta salata and remaining herbs.
Chicken with Sherry Wine Vinegar and Herbs Galore
This easy dish is a showcase for fresh herbs…the more kinds the better. Another method that works well here is to bake the chicken in a deeper baking dish first, then broil at the last minute just to crisp the skin.
½ C. chopped assorted fresh herbs (such as parsley, oregano, tarragon)
6 T. olive oil
1/3 C. Sherry wine vinegar
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 t. salt
1¾ pounds boneless chicken breast halves with skin, each quartered
¼ C. dry vermouth or dry white wine
2 T. butter, chilled, diced
Whisk first 5 ingredients in large bowl. Add chicken; turn to coat. (At this point you can marinate the chicken, refrigerated and covered, up to a day.) Preheat broiler. Arrange chicken, skin side down, on rimmed baking sheet. Pour marinade over; broil 4 minutes. Turn chicken. Broil until cooked through and skin is browned, about 6 minutes.
Transfer chicken to platter. Add vermouth and cold butter to juices on sheet. Place sheet over 2 burners on medium heat. Cook until sauce is reduced to 1/2 cup, scraping up browned bits, about 2 minutes. Pour warm sauce over chicken.