Spring

Light and Lovely Spring Split Pea Soup

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by Lisa McRee

peasoupWho doesn’t love Spring? With days growing longer, buds turning into blooms and winter produce giving way to spring’s greens, it’s the season of re-birth and renewal.

But in Southern California–with daily highs hitting 80 and nights dipping to 40–spring is also a season of contradictions. (How else could we explain short-shorts worn with Uggs?)  And for those chilly evenings, here’s a soup that’s hot and hearty but still seasonal and skinny: Light and Lovely Spring and Split Pea Soup.

Dried green split peas–high in fiber, protein, B vitamins and complex carbohydrates–are one of the world’s healthiest foods.  But like all dried legumes, once cooked, they have about 300 calories per cup.

And though turning dried peas into soup made with low fat broth can reduce calories, most recipes for split pea soup also tend to have an obnoxious amount of pork and fat. (Paula Deen’s recipe, for example, calls for bacon and sausage and butter and adds up to 1020 calories and 30 grams of fat per 2 cup serving.…almost two-thirds of the calories an average 5’5 woman should have in a day.)

Dandelions for dinner? A weed by any other name...

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by Noelle Carter

dandelionsFrom the LA Times

"But they're weeds."

My much better half is not, shall we say, "adventurous" when it comes to greens: A "real" salad is built around a wedge of iceberg or chopped romaine. Stewed collards are fine for New Year's Eve, and sautéed spinach can make an occasional appearance at the dinner table. But that's where the love ends. Forget arugula and radicchio, and don't even think about frisee.

So when I pitched dandelion greens for dinner the other night, well, you can probably understand the breathless shock.

Dandelions are an assertive green, just ask any gardener who's had to battle them on the front lawn or in cracks on the driveway. Unwanted, any greens are "weeds."

But have you ever bitten into a dandelion leaf? The flavor is tangy, even borderline bitter, with a definite texture. It's an assertiveness that can work wonders in the kitchen, provided you know how to handle it and pair the greens with complementary flavors.

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Cold Poached Asparagus with Basil Mayonnaise

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by Lisa McRee

asparagusOf all the spring vegetables, asparagus is one of the easiest to prepare…simply grilled, oven roasted or shredded raw as a salad, it needs little more than salt and lemon to qualify as a side dish. But if you’re looking to dress up those slender stalks in a more elegant way, try this: Cold Poached Asparagus with Skinny Basil Mayonnaise.

When my children were little and I was housebound, I threw some pretty elaborate dinner parties (it was the only way I could make sure I had decent adult conversation and good wine once a week), and a starter salad of asparagus with basil aioli (which is simply homemade mayonnaise) was always in my spring rotation.

With just 40 calories a cup and loaded with folic acid, antioxidants and tummy filling fiber, asparagus is one of nature’s great gifts to dieters. But homemade mayo, which is made mostly of oil and egg yolks, is not.

Fresh Ricotta with Olive Oil, Fava Beans, and Herbs

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by Joseph Erdos

favabeansYou probably know ricotta as the cheese that goes in lasagne or manicotti but ricotta is so much more. If you've ever had ricotta straight out of the container or tried freshly made ricotta, you know exactly what I mean. It's luscious, creamy and sweet all on its own. Ricotta is amazing simply spread on toast or served as a snack or appetizer. It can even be a dessert—I like it drizzled with honey.

I had a dish of ricotta as a starter to a wonderful lunch at Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria. Even after platters of salumi, plates of pasta and panini, I was most enamored with a simple dish of ricotta with fava beans, so much so that I decided to recreate the dish at home. It's so easy to do that it's practically effortless and there's almost no cooking involved except for blanching the fresh favas.

Here it is much like the original. A drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper is the only flavoring the ricotta needs. Creamy spring fava beans add a nice textural contrast. And fresh herbs add bursts of flavor with every spoonful. Serve it over toasted bread, such as crostini, for the best pairing.

Linguine with Sautéed Ramps

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by Joseph Erdos

ramplinguineIt's that time of the year: ramp season! These wild leeks, as they are known, are starting to become available at the farmers' markets. Just last Friday on my visit to the the Union Square Greenmarket, Berried Treasures was selling bags upon bags full of ramps. I'm sure they were all bought up by restaurants that day. But I myself bought a few bunches as I usually do and immediately started thinking of all the recipe possibilities.

Even with all the options, my go-to dish for ramps is always pasta. I love the flavor of the bulbs when they caramelize from sautéing and the greens turn slightly sweet after they have wilted. Tossed with pasta it's as simple and satisfying as it gets. You barely need anything else to make the dish shine because the ramps do all the shining.

For this recipe I like a little heat in the form of chile flakes and a bit of crunch from breadcrumbs. Some lemon juice adds a nice tang and crumbled Parmesan adds touches of saltiness throughout. Try this dish for a lovely spring dinner—add a glass of white wine and you're all set.

Ramp and Sorrel Soup

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by Joseph Erdos

sorrelsoupI love unique spring vegetables—it's the reason why I write about such things like ramps and fiddleheads so much. For me there's nothing better than combining my favorites in one recipe to celebrate the spring season. Ramps on their own would make a particularly good soup. But looking for a contrasting flavor to pair it with, I thought of sorrel. With its tart and citrusy flavor, the leafy green is a perfect foil for pungent and oniony ramps.

This season the weather hasn't really brought us much of a warm spring just yet. Instead we've gotten endless chilly days, but luckily those days present us with the perfect opportunity to eat spring soups. Rich flavored, creamy soups are the best way to soothe and satisfy when you need uplift on a cold day. And say if suddenly the weather turns for the better, these types of soups are also great chilled on a warm day.

How to Buy, Store and Cook with Pea Shoots

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by Susan Russo

peashootsA couple of weeks ago I experienced a revelation: I tasted my first pea shoot.

I was at the Little Italy Mercato buying Asian produce from The Vangs, also known as Mr. and Mrs. Green. After purchasing Thai basil, fresh ginger and sugar snap peas, I asked, "What do pea shoots taste like?"

She replied, with no sarcasm, "Peas."

She tore a small piece off one of the leaves and handed it to me. I bit into it and suddenly the sun broke through the clouds, harp music began playing, and I floated ever so slightly off of the pavement.

OK, that's not exactly what happened. There was no harp music. It was Spanish music being played by a local band.

Mizuna and Broccoli Flower Salad

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by Susan Russo

mizunasaladGrowing up "salad" meant a plate with iceberg lettuce, cucumber, carrot, and tomato slices, and bottled Catalina dressing.

Like TV's, salads have come a long way since then.

I remember in the 80's everyone started eating Caesar salad, and romaine bumped iceberg as the lettuce of choice. Then sometime in the '90s peppery salad leaves like arugula and radicchio were clandestinely added to salad plates. Back then people would disparagingly call them "the lettuce that bites you back." Ah, how things have changed.

Then came mesclun, and salad was never the same. Mesculn is a mix of tender, young salad leaves. Its name comes from the French mescla meaning "to mix." Mesclun varies depending on the source but may include arugula, mustard greens, oak leaf, radicchio, red beet greens, and sorrel.

The first time Jeff and I ate fresh mesclun from the farmers' market here in California we were taken aback:

"Wow! This salad has lots of flavor. You can really taste the greens," Jeff said.

Pretty in Pink

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by James Farmer III

pinkGreen and white floral combos stop me in my tracks. But there is sometimes that mutation, veering shade, or complete stray in the garden that just makes a splash and causes me to stop and just wonder at the simple elegance of flower in a different shade. In this case, a pink dogwood is the variance from the white floral scheme.

A dogwood, Cornus florida, is stunning in its creamy white blousy bloom set against the green of longleaf pines, new green oak leafs, and all the freshness that only a chartreuse spring can herald. Just like genetics can give one sibling curls and another iron-strait locks, the plant family can express genes in the same fashion.

Then, after taking note of such a pink perfection blooming on the side of my house, I began to relish at the thought of grouping these pinky phenoms with other rosy hues. Pretty in pink just came to mind.

Some of Granddaddy’s first roses of this vernal equinox were crowning the bush’s stems and begging one to stop and smell – stop and smell and clip for a bouquet! Even the waxy florets of Indian hawthorn (Raphiolepis indica) tucked into the mix with a few azalea blossoms and the first fronds of maiden hair fern began to shape this arrangement, all held by a silver stein.

Potted Chocolate-Mint Puddings

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by Cathy Pollak

pottedpuddingThese mini mint puddings sprout to life with their mint seedling growing out the top and ground-cookie dirt sprinkled on the surface.

What a great way to celebrate Spring with these cleverly disguised desserts.  Pour pudding into votive candleholders and serve with wooden "plant marker" spoons. 

Perfect for April Fool's Day!

The kids will love these but so will adults.  You can easily use your favorite recipe, adding mint extract at the end or try this one, it's delicious!

 

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