Spring

rhubarbpannacotta.jpg Summer is fast approaching and more and more fruits and vegetables are coming in season. One of my favorite spring/summer crossover vegetables is rhubarb. I love it's tart flavor and bright pink color. It complements a variety of sweet and savory dishes. But it's most commonly known as pie fruit and is more often paired with strawberries than with any other fruit or vegetable. But I like it when it plays the leading role in a dish and not the supporting one.

In the summer on those especially hot days all I crave are cooling desserts that can be simply made ahead of time and chilled. One of my favorite chilled desserts is the Italian panna cotta, which is basically jellied cream. In this dessert the panna cotta serves as a perfect base for rhubarb, prepared in two different ways. One batch is roasted with sugar and then infused with cinnamon and sparkling wine. Another batch is pickled in a honey-sweet brine with a bit of grenadine for color and star anise for a touch of spice. The sweet, tart, savory, and crisp intermingle as the two rhubarbs meet on the plate.

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shavedasparagussaladSteamed, roasted or grilled—they're not the only ways to enjoy asparagus. Have you tried it raw? If you were to just bite in its pretty tough to eat. But that's where your vegetable shaver comes in. With it you can create thin ribbons of asparagus that are ready to eat—all without cooking.

This salad is a great way to put a new spin on asparagus. You'll be surprised by the taste of it raw—it's so fresh and crunchy. Just a simple vinaigrette is all you need to make the asparagus shine like it should. Try it as as an appetizer or side dish.

For this recipe you actually don't need a recipe because it's so easy to make. Just use exceptionally fresh asparagus that has thick stems—the thicker the easier to work with. And don't think thick asparagus is tough, it's the opposite. Make a simple vinaigrette with bright lemon juice and you're all set.

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easyasparahusWhile I wait (and wait) for our local asparagus, it occurs to me that everyone else is not waiting. The grocery stores are full of asparagus (from elsewhere, wherever that is) and it is hard to walk down the produce aisles without snatching up a bunch. I understand, really I do, and that is probably why my two blogs on asparagus from last year are getting hit up a lot these days. So okay, I can’t be my stubborn self and wait another month to offer up more asparagus recipes. Especially because there are about a gazillion different ways to cook asparagus—almost all of them pretty darn quick—so I can come back to this provocative vegetable again. Soon.

While I love quick-braising and sautéing asparagus, I think the method that may be the absolute speediest may offer up some of the best flavor, too. It’s stir-frying. Two to three minutes, and you’ve got a beguiling roasty-toasty flavor and a nice crisp-tender texture. A few keys here: Slice the asparagus thinly on the bias for the best browning; don’t use a lot of fat; keep the heat cranked up. (I love the bowl shape of my non-stick stir-fry pan, but you can substitute with a nonstick skillet—just stir more frequently.)

I like to include a bit of garlic, some sliced scallions or shallots (as in the recipe below), or a combo of ginger and garlic in an asparagus stir-fry—but not much more. I don’t make a finishing pan sauce for it, in order to let that pure flavor shine through. (I do, however, sometimes like a cool, creamy garnish for this dish—crème frâiche is lovely.)

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matzosalmonI love salmon. I probably eat entirely too much of it.

But what I love about salmon are the possibilities available to turn this simple fish into so many different amazing dishes. Salmon's blank canvas allows for everything from rich, heavy cream sauces to light and lemony bases to enhance its taste.

When I came across this recipe for Roasted Salmon with a Lemon-Herb Matzo Crust, I thought, how perfect for this time of year, matzo is everywhere. If you have never had matzo, it's time to pick out a box.

It's basically a giant unleavened cracker and is quite enjoyable when slathered with butter...yes, I eat it this way...it's supposed to replace bread...so why not.

Anyway, the crust on this fish is to die for, so full of flavor with the herbs, lemon and butter. I highly recommend this dish for any night of the week. It's high on the yum factor.

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ramp.jpgEvery year with the arrival of spring comes the short-lived season of ramps. From about April to May ramps are available in farmers' markets in the Northeast. Here people go crazy over ramps. Sometimes I wonder why they're loved so much. Last year I cooked and pickled ramps for the first time and grew very fond of them. Ramps are unique in that they're harvested from the wild. If you know where to find them or know of a forager who can find them for you, then you're very lucky to get them for free. But the rest of us have to buy them at the market.

This past Saturday I visited the Union Square Greenmarket and was excited to find ramps still available at one of the market's best stands. Mountain Sweet Berry Farm is know for their stellar ramps. You can't miss them, they have a very large ideas board on display that includes recipes for ramps from local chefs. So if you're ever in the city this month, stop by the market and look for the long line of customers and the board of famous scribbled recipes. Not only will you grab a bunch of these unusual edibles, but you might pick up a few new cooking ideas. Read more about ramps and see the board in this great article at Leite's Culinaria.

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