Tag Archives: spring vegetables

This is so difficult you may not even want to try.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

The gift of a spaetzle-maker, originally intended for the giver’s daughter – “Honestly, you’re more likely to use it.” – has plagued me for years. It sat in the cupboard leering, challenging me to finally take it from it’s simple, clear plastic wrapping and make a batch of the quickly simmered soup dumplings.

For some reason, however, making doughs, an activity involving things like measuring and specific ingredients, always seems so foreboding, a challenge best left to classically trained pastry chefs and German grandmothers.

Last week, the need to dress up my recipe for asparagus soup drove me to research spaetzle. Custards felt fussy, and a garnish of wild mushrooms just lazy. Mushroom spaetzle, though daunting, seemed the perfect solution. We carefully measured each ingredient only to discover that sweet, light Oyster mushrooms disappeared in the rich dough. We pressed on, sautéing hearty, bold Criminis for a second batch. They were delicious and we were in love.

So, was it worth the painstaking pain and suffering? Should spaetzle be left to the chefs? The answer is “no.” Made with four ingredients, simmered and served, spaeetzle couldn’t be simpler. Guten appetit!

Mushroom Spaetzle

Serves 6-8

Spaetzle makerIngredients:

  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped Crimini mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup Madeira wine
  • 1 tbs chopped parsley
  • 1.5 cups flour
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk

Directions:

  • Warm oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Add mushrooms and cook until softened and golden on edges. Add wine to pan and scrape up any brown bits. Cook until liquid has evaporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper
  • Chop mushrooms and parsley together until minced.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a simmer.
  • Meanwhile, whisk together flour and salt. Add mushrooms and whisk to combine.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. Add to dry ingredients and whisk until it forms into a smooth dough.
  • Press dough through a colander, or spaetzle-maker, over simmering water. Cook for 2-3 minutes and drain.
  • Serve with butter or over soup.

Asparagus Soup

Serves 6-8

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches asparagus, about 2 pounds
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tbs chopped parsley, reserve stems
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 2 medium red potatoes, diced
  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts thinly sliced
  • 2 tbs butter
  • Sherry vinegar

Directions:

  • Snap tough ends from asparagus. Add ends to a 4 qt saucepan with stock, thyme, bay and parsley stems. Simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Melt butter in a soup pot over medium-low heat. Simmer potatoes and leeks in butter. Add a little water as needed. Cook until potatoes are soft.
  • Strain stock into soup pot and cook for five minutes. Cut remaining asparagus into 2” pieces and add to stock. Remove 10-12 tips after 3 minutes.
  • When asparagus is just tender, pass soup through a food mill or processor. Stir through parsley.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper, butter and vinegar. Garnish with asparagus tips.
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Why cook anything else?

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Photography by Sam Armocido

I blame bacon. Amish bacon.

You see, until last week, I was living in a beautiful fantasy world where people came to my Eastern Market demos each week to taste new, farm-fresh, seasonal ingredients. We were learning new foods, new recipes and new techniques together. But it was all a lie.

One of my farmers, Dan, picked up four pounds of bacon during his weekly run into Lancaster County, PA. “Fry it up at the end of your demo,” he asked, so he and his staff could eat it for lunch between slices of bread with fresh baby arugula. I got more attention and more questions during 20 minutes of frying bacon then I had throughout three hours of strawberry soup, spinach salad and fiddlehead ferns. Most of them were, “Is that bacon?”

But, Mom and Dad didn’t raise a quitter. So sorry folks, you’re just going to have to suffer through asparagus soup with mushroom spaetzle this week. As my Dad used to tell me, “People in hell want ice water.” And, apparently, bacon.

Spinach With Spicy Bacon Vinaigrette

This is not the salad to use baby spinach for. The hot vinaigrette will wilt it right down into soup. Buy grown-up spinach with good substance to the leaves. Yum! No Cabernet Sauvignon jam in the fridge, bust out just about any jam with this salad from tart beach plum or cherry to acidic orange marmalade.

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 4 thick slices bacon, diced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1/2 red onion cut in thin slices
  • 1/4 cup Cabernet Sauvignon or other tart jam
  • 1 tsp grainy mustard
  • 1/4 cup Sherry or Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry Vinegar*
  • Ground Habañero chile or cayenne pepper
  • 1 orange, sectioned
  • 1 pound grown-up Spinach, de-ribbed

*You can find Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry Vinegar at Washington, DC’s Sapore Oil and Vinegar. Stop by or order online. I love it and easily go through a bottle a month.

Directions:

  • Warm oil in a 10” skillet over medium-high heat. Brown bacon and remove with a slotted spoon, leaving behind rendered fat.
  • Add diced onion, reduce heat to medium and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes.
  • Add Cabernet Sauvignon jam and mustard and cook, stirring, until jam liquifies and liquid reduces by half.
  • Add vinegar and whisk until vinaigrette comes together and thickens.
  • Season vinaigrette to taste with salt, pepper and Habañero or other hot chile powder.
  • Toss spinach, sliced onion and oranges with vinaigrette and serve. If you want this to look extra special for guests, dress the onions and orange sections in a separate bowl and plate on top of the dressed spinach.

 

The root of the problem.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

A beetroot salad, in British television, seems to be shorthand for punishment or penance. However, faced with a spring   season where the calendar had gotten far out ahead of the weather, that’s precisely what we made.

Cold days had prevented the emergence of sweet asparagus or spring onions, so we sat in the test kitchen staring at winter storage celeriac, parsnips, carrots and beetroot. They seemed more suited to a fall roast tossed with thyme than a light spring salad.

Our first decision was to serve them raw, the second was a light poppyseed vinaigrette. Shaving them thin on the smallest side of our box grater eliminated thick , tough shreds  of fibrous root vegetables. With the grater already out, we grated onion rather than dairy to thicken our dressing.

Faced with several vinegars, Sam, part of our #testkitchen crew, selected a mildly acidic, slightly sweet Autumn Apple from Sapore. It was the perfect choice.  Winter never tasted so much like spring.

*Yes, this blog post title is a terrible pun. If one of you had brought me more coffee it could have been avoided.

Sam’s Root Vegetable Slaw

The beets turn the rest of the vegetables a beautiful bright ruby color.

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

For slaw:

  • 1 cup grated beet
  • 1 cup grated carrot
  • 1 cup grated celery root
  • 1 cup grated parsnip

For dressing:

  • 3 tbs grated onion
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1 tsp poppy seeds
  • 1-2 tbs honey
  • 1/4 cup Autumn Apple* or Sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest

*Autumn Apple vinegar is available in DC or online at Sapore. Commonly available cider vinegars tend to be bitter and acidic. Sherry vinegar would be a closer match to the autumn apple.

Directions:

  •  Toss together grated vegetables in a large bowl.
  • Make dressing: whisk together onion, dry mustard, paprika, poppy seeds, honey and Autumn Apple vinegar with a pinch of salt and pepper.
  • Whisk oil into dressing in a thin stream to form a creamy emulsion.
  • Dress slaw and let rest 10-20 minutes before serving to let flavors develop. These vegetables are bold and heavy, so add a little more dressing than you would to fresh greens.
  • Serve topped with grated lemon zest.

“I’ll take the light potato salad, please.”

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With each new summer cookout, looms the threat that someone is going to show up with those clear plastic containers from the deli counter of potato salad, macaroni salad and coleslaw. Now, rumor has it that these salads actually  contain potatoes, macaroni and cabbage, but the protective coating of mayonnaise obscures any possible proof.

Okay, that was a bit of hyperbole, but most summer cookouts abound with rich, grilled meats and sauces, toasted buns and baskets of chips and dip. What I want from my salad is something light and bright to balance the plate, and a gloopy heap of mayonnaise just doesn’t cut it. Enter the “French” potato salad.

Like may other American “French” delicacies like fries, toast and dressing, I’m not sure how french this is, but I think they would approve. Boiled potatoes are tossed, still warm, in a sharp, buttery vinaigrette, with garlic or shallots and fresh herbs. They soak up the dressing and releasing the flavorful oils from the greens; exactly what you want sitting next to your burger, hanger steak or chicken thighs, complete with flawless grill marks.

This is a recipe I served at Eastern Market recently, but experiment throughout the summer. Toss with halved cherry tomatoes and basil, use fresh tasting tarragon and shallots, baby arugula or minced red peppers. But please, I’ll take my potato salad without mayonnaise. and I like my burgers rare.

French Potato Salad with Mint and Garlic Scapes

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups small potatoes
  • 3 tbs mint
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped garlic scapes

For dressing:

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup Champagne Mimosa Vinegar*
  • 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup Koroneiko Olive Oil*
*More magical ingredients from Sapore Oil and Vinegar. Champagne or white wine vinegar can replace the Champagne Mimosa. The Koroneiko Olive Oil is Greek. Mild and grassy. Substitute another high-quality olive oil.

Directions:

  • Boil potatoes in salted water until still firm but can be easily pierced through to the center with the tip of a knife. Drain potatoes.
  • Meanwhile, mince garlic and mash it into a paste with coarse sea salt. Whisk with Champagne Mimosa Vinegar. Season with pepper. Set aside.
  • Mix mint and garlic scapes in a salad bowl.
  • Cut warm potatoes in 1” pieces – halved or quartered – and toss with mint and garlic scapes. The heat will release oils in the mint.
  • Whisk oil into vinegar mixture in a steady stream until creamy. Toss with potatoes. Dress lightly so not to overpower the other flavors.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper and additional mint.

Until next year.

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Gardeners, cooks and farmers share a unique awareness of the changing of the seasons. Crocus and radishes give way to irises and asparagus. Early summers pinks, blues, English peas and sweet cherries change to late summer yellows and oranges, summer squash, sweet corn and tomatoes.

The seasons are changing right now. Farmers at the Market admonish us to enjoy the spring’s last rhubarb and asparagus, while filling the gap with the year’s first tomatoes and squash, helped along with early season cover. They taste richly of the soil they’re grown in, but not yet sweet from the summer sun.

Seasons of eating start with hunger, built over months of waiting. That first spear of asparagus or first ripe tomato is wonderful eaten raw and fresh. Over a six to eight week season your recipes progress from old favorites to new experiments. Finally, when you think you can’t eat another zucchini or ear of corn, they are gone until next year.

Here, then is a celebration of the passing of asparagus. It’s been a wonderful spring for it, although May’s heat led many farmers to end their harvest earlier than usual. Enjoy this salad, simple and fresh, elegant enough for fine dining, quick enough for a Tuesday supper. Until next year.

Asparagus Mimosa Salad

The name of this salad refers to the similarity in appearance between the grated egg and the foamy yellow/white flowers of the Mimosa tree.

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs, hardboiled
  • 1 pound asparagus
  • 2-3 radishes, cut in matchsticks
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/4 cup Champagne Mimosa vinegar*
  • 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 3/4 cup Olive oil – the good stuff!
*Another treat from Sapore Oil and Vinegar in DC. You can substitute champagne or a tarragon,white wine vinegar.
Directions:
  • Begin vinaigrette: whisk together shallot, vinegar,mustard, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
  • Peel and finely grate the hardboiled eggs. Set aside. You won’t be able to get the entire egg grated. Pop the larger, leftover pieces in your mouth.
  • For a special presentation, line up your asparagus spears and cut them to fit the plates you will be serving this salad on.
  • Blanch asparagus in a large boiling pot of salted water for approximately 3 minutes, until crisp tender. Shock in an ice bath.
  • Complete vinaigrette by whisking in olive oil in a thin stream. Taste vinaigrette with an asparagus stalk and season to taste with additional salt pepper, oil or vinegar.
  • Place asparagus stalks on individual plates, drizzle with vinaigrette, top with radish and egg.

*Thomas Keller takes the tender ends of the asparagus, left over when you trim the spears to the size of your salad plates, and blanches them for about five minutes. Shock them in an ice bath, then puree them in a blender with a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid, salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. That’s the green sauce you see on the bottom in the photograph.

Really good, farm-fresh butter.

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If you’ve watched me cook at Eastern Market, or ventured into my home for a meal, you’ve probably heard “the butter story.” It goes like this:

Four years ago I started using farm-fresh butter in an effort to cook with the best ingredients I could find. My husband, upon discovering that  fabulous, farm-fresh butter can cost twice as much as grocery store butter, started giving me a good ribbing. “Local, farm-fresh butter can’t possibly taste twice as good as grocery store, stick butter.”

At the time I was reading Jennifer McLagan’s cookbook, Fat. Extolling the virtues of good butter, she recommended doing a tasting. So off we marched, Jason and I, into the kitchen, with a block of local, farm-fresh butter in one hand and a stick of grocery store butter in the other. One at a time, we cut a small sliver of each and let them melt on our tongues.

The first thing you notice about farm-fresh butter is the rich taste of cream. Then you notice the season and diet of the cows. In spring the butter is herbal and floral, light and perfect against grassy spring vegetables – asparagus, spring onions, fiddleheads and radishes. In summer the butter turns grassy, pairing perfectly with zucchini and tomatoes. In fall and winter when the cows switch to a feed diet, the flavor is rich and mellow, perfect for pumpkin, beets and holiday baking.

The grocery store butter was nearly flavorless. Softening on your tongue it gave the feel of greasy fat with the taste of cardboard.

When cooking from scratch you’ve got six, maybe ten, ingredients in a dish (that’s if you count salt and pepper). You can’t afford to have one of those tasting like cardboard, and not pulling its weight.

That’s the butter story. Every word of it is real and true. Every week I bring home a block of butter from Dan at Agora Farms from his stand at Eastern Market. I finish soups with a tablespoon or two for added richness. I’ll whisk a tablespoon into the deglazed pan juices of a sautéed chicken breast or bone-in pork chop to make a quick sauce.

This coming weekend, as part of my weekly cooking demo, I’m making Hollandaise. It has four ingredients – water, egg yolks, clarified butter and lemon juice (plus salt and white pepper). Strawberries and rhubarb are in season and I’ll make a pie next weekend as well. The dough contains flour, water, a pinch each of salt and sugar, and butter. In each case the butter is on stage, exposed, and it had better be good.

Good butter – good ingredients – matter. And they matter greatly. They also cost more.

A friend of mine passed around a blog entry listing five lessons learned from an evening with farmer, Joel Salatin. In one of those lessons, he challenges, “Do you have a cell phone? Do you have cable? Drink beer on the weekends? I bet you do. If you can afford those things, you can afford to eat good food, real food. And if you tell me you still can’t afford it, I will tell you the issue isn’t with money. It’s with priorities.”

Prioritize good food. Cut out something small this week and treat yourself to a pound of incredible, farm-fresh, Amish butter this weekend. Or local asparagus, really exceptional olive oil, or strawberries that will travel less than 50 miles from the field to your shortcakes. Good food is worth it. And so are you, your friends and your family.