Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tender to the tip

The trees are filling out their winter nakedness with new green leaves creating a softness for the eye and soul. But these flourishing moments are not the only nascent growth of the season of renewal. The quintessential icon of the season, asparagus, this happily pushing their tight little tips skyward. These stalks are the new growth of a fern that if allowed to go unchecked will fan out in a preening peacocks display of leaf and desire.

For me, the pencil thin ones are best, and I single-mindedly turn over bundled pointy top clusters to ensure I do not take home any bulky stalks. I am also making sure that these immature ferns have been freshly harvested – the cut bottom should not look dried and scabbed over, and their tips should be tightly closed and not mushy, wet. If I need to store them for a few days I land them in a glass with a bit a water in the refrigerator until their time has come to celebrate their moment. Trimming asparagus takes on two different techniques. If they are the pencil-thin ones all you just have to line up the asparagus and lop off the bottoms about 1 inch from the base. If they are a thicker ones you want to gently snap them towards the base. I tend to snap a few to start with and then use those as a my guide to trim the remaining asparagus…Line them up at the tips for this and then cut off the base.

Blistered Asparagus - yields 6 servings
I adore asparagus so much that I fantasize of following Spring across the globe in order to continually capture one of her finest offerings. For this recipe it is best if you can get the young pencil-thin asparagus. The reason is two fold: they are less fibrous than their older brethren, and I think they have a more delicate flavor.

1-1/2 pound asparagus
1/4-cup olive oil
1/4-teaspoon salt - such as kosher or course sea salt
Freshly ground Black Pepper to taste
1 lemon – juiced (about 1/4 cup)
4 ounces goat cheese or Feta cheese - crumbled

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Trim the base of the asparagus and wash well cold running water. Pat the asparagus dry and then toss to coat with the oil. Lay the asparagus on a parchment paper lined baking tray in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper to taste. Roast in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes depending on thickness of the asparagus. The pencil thin asparagus need to cook those only five minutes. Transfer the asparagus to a serving platter and sprinkle with the crumbled goat cheese and drizzle with lemon juice. Serve warm or room temperature.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

To the budding season

A chaff bears a grain
Wondrous its potential
Life into life it grows
Waiting for tomorrow
Some become a meal

White Beans with Tomato and Sage - yields 8 servings
1 1/2 cups white navy beans - soaked overnight in three times their volume of water
1 large onion - diced
2 garlic cloves - crushed to a paste
1/4 cup sage leaves - chopped
1/2 pound Roma tomatoes
1/2 cup Sherry or Balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste

Bring a heavy lined pot filled with 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the drained beans, and gently cook for 45 minutes, or until soft to the bite. Drain and hold to the side.
Cut the Roma tomatoes in quarters, and remove the seeds. Then dice the tomatoes. In a sauté pan heat the oil, and add the onions. Cook the onions till they are caramelized. Remove from the heat and toss in the tomatoes, sage, garlic, coriander and vinegar. Return to the heat, and add the beans, and gently toss together till warmed. Season with salt and black pepper.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Making the switch

The cherry blossoms are gently raining down on the streets affording me a cushioned, blushed pavement to tread on. Silently my feet fall upon this carpet as I go out hunting though in truth I have no fear that my prey will bolt if I audibly alert them to my arrival. For it is the first of spring’s offering I am seeking, and today I found them -- ramps. A telltale aromatic sortie notified me of their presence -- even before I spied the pile of them on one of my favorite farmer’s table.

This signals my switch from winter's grazing upon the foods I put up and other products brought in from around the world. From this point forward my diet will consist of nature’s ever replenishing basket from the local farms and artisans in my area. I probably achieve about 90% of the foods I eat from now through November to come locally. Yes, it is good to lessen my carbon footprint but selfishly being a locavore gives me flavor, color, texture, and most importantly, nutritional value not to be found on a supermarket shelf.

Linguini with Clam Sauce - yields 6 servings

1 pound Linguini
1/4-cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 pound ramps - roots trimmed, and washed well
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2-teaspoon red chili flakes
3/4-cup dry white wine
48 each Littleneck clams - scrubbed clean
1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves - roughly chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese - grated

Bring a six quart pot of water to the boil for the pasta.

Heat a high sided 10 inch sauté pan over a medium heat and add the oil. Add the ramps, pepper and red chili flakes and cook for a minute to release its aromatic flavors. Immediately add the wine and clams and cover with a tight fitting lid. Cook the clams for 10 to 12 minutes or until the clams have open.

Cook off the pasta according to the instructions on the package and drain. Add the pasta, parsley and lemon juice immediately into the sauce and serve. You want the sauce to be waiting for the pasta, but do not let it wait too long as the calms will start to get tough. Garnish each plate with grated parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Spring equals Greens

Spring has sprung all around us. And nature’s color wheel has clicked to green. For the next month or so our plates should be drenched in verdant leaves that give crisp texture when eaten raw, or soften smoothly when cooked. My basket is filled with a rainbow display of Swiss chard, puckering sorrel, gentle bitterness of newly arriving broccoli rabe.

I will use any of these delicate initial offerings interchangeably – most of us have a recipe for spinach substitute it with arugula, Swiss chard or escarole.

If you are like me, and just simply enjoy wilted greens I recommend that you wash them well to dislodge any dirt that has hitched a ride in from the country in a few changes of cold water. Let the greens dip dry or spin them dry. I heat my pan then add the greens and pour whatever oil I am using over the greens. The reason for this is that inevitably some water is still clinging to the leaves, and I hate the splatter of the oil as the leaves fall into it.

Swiss Chard Won-ton Raviolis - yields 8 servings
1 bunch Red or White Swiss Chard (approx. 2 pounds)
2 Garlic cloves - finely minced
3/4 cup Parmesan Cheese
salt and pepper
1 package Won-ton wrappers (approximately 50 count)
1/4 cup Corn starch
1/2 cup Olive Oil

Remove the rib from the leaves of the swiss chard. Wash both, but keep them separate. Bring a four quart pot of water to a boil and cook the leaves for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain. Roughly chop the leaves. Meanwhile, dice the ribs into small pieces and sauté in 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the garlic for 5 minutes. Drain the ribs through a fine sieve over a large bowl collecting the cooking liquid given off from the cooked ribs. Reserve the liquid.

Toss the swiss chard leaf, rib and cheese together. Taste and correct seasoning with salt and pepper.

On a won-ton skin place about a tablespoon’s worth of the swiss chard mixture in the center. Lightly dampen the edges with water and lay another won-ton skin on top. Carefully, squeeze out any air from the ravioli and pinch the edges to seal. Place the completed raviolis on a tray lightly dusted with corn starch (this helps prevent the raviolis from sticking to the surface). Continue with the rest.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly oil a baking tray and lay the raviolis down in a single layer. Lightly brush the tops of the raviolis with oil. Place in the oven and bake for 8 to10 minutes, or until golden brown.

Bring the reserved swiss chard liquid to a boil, season with salt and pepper and add remaining oil. Drizzle a little liquid over each serving.