Easy Grilled Broccoli and Carrots

broccoli carrots

In a matter of a few weeks our farmers market has transformed into the vegetarian equivalent of a candy store. New leaves, baby shoots and spring bulbs are on display in miniature form as their growing season is in full force. In general, I like my veggies cooked simply, and at this time of year their freshness demands it. All that’s needed is a quick steam, saute, or a turn on the grill and you will have a simple and delicious side to any meal.

Broccoli and carrots pretty much sum up the ingredient list for this veggie side I made recently – plus a pinch salt and splash of olive oil for good measure. Everything converged on the grill, which in itself is another ingredient to the dish, adding char to complete the flavor profile. On the grill? Yes, if you are careful and lay the vegetables perpendicular to the grates to prevent them from slipping through. Better yet, if you have a cast iron skillet (which you should), preheat the skillet (or a griddle) on the grill, then sear the vegetables until they wilt and char, and you are good to go. Vegetables simply never tasted so good.

Grilled Broccolini and Carrots
Serves 4 to 6 as a simple side dish

1 pound baby broccoli (broccolini), ends trimmed
1 pound baby carrots, trimmed, halved lengthwise if thick
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Prepare a grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat. If using a skillet or griddle, preheat on the grill for 10 minutes.
2. Place the vegetables in a large bowl. Drizzle with 1 to 2 tablespoons oil – just enough to coat without soaking – and lightly season with salt, then turn to coat.
3. Lay the vegetables perpendicular to the grill grates (or spread in the skillet) and cook until bright in color, crisp-tender, and lightly charred, turning as needed, about 5 minutes, depending on thickness of the stalks.
4. Transfer to a serving bowl and season with additional salt and black pepper, if desired.  Serve warm.
5. Other options: sprinkle crushed red pepper flakes over for a nice bite and drizzle with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice before serving.

Roasted Asparagus Salad with Crispy Prosciutto and Egg

Asparagus salad tastefood

I made this salad for an Easter brunch last weekend. It’s a lovely way to serve asparagus; and prosciutto; and egg. There is not much else you need to add to this trio except a squeeze of lemon and a good splash of olive oil. If you can get your hands on a bunch of baby greens, then use them as a bed for the asparagus to absorb the oil and lemon.

Roasted Asparagus Salad with Crispy Prosciutto and Egg
Serves 6 to 8

1 pound asparagus, woody ends trimmed
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 ounces prosciutto
2 hard cooked eggs
3 ounces mixed baby greens (such as kale, arugula, mizuna, spinach)

Heat the oven to 375°F. Spread the asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle a little olive oil over the asparagus and turn to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until the asparagus are bright green and crisp tender, 10 to 12 minutes, depending on thickness of the stalks. They should be crisp tender and not too floppy (unless you like them that way; then cook a bit longer). Remove from the oven and transfer to a plate to cool. Keep the oven on.

Arrange the prosciutto on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake until shriveled and firm to the touch, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool to the touch. The prosciutto will continue to harden as it cools. When cool enough to handle, break into shards.

Spread the greens on a serving platter. Arrange the asparagus over the greens. Squeeze the juice of the lemon over the asparagus and greens. Grate the egg over the asparagus, then sprinkle the prosciutto shards over the salad. Garnish with black pepper.

Chicken Vegetable Soup with Green Garlic

Chicken Vegetable Soup with Green Garlic

green garlic veg soup

In this in-between time of winter and spring, a chicken vegetable soup is appropriately light and soothing. In this recipe, the comfort of chicken stock is enriched with carrots, fennel, and green garlic.  Green garlic is unique to spring. Resembling a thick scallion, the green stalk and bulb of young garlic is harvested before the plant matures and the bulb divides into cloves. In its raw state green garlic has a pungent aroma, yet when cooked it grows tame, providing a mild, sweet and herbaceous backdrop to the chicken stock.

Chicken Vegetable Soup with Green Garlic

Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped green garlic, white and pale green parts
Salt
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
1 medium fennel bulb, fronds trimmed, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 cup orzo
2 heaping teaspoons fresh thyme
1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken meat
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the green garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Sauté until the garlic softens and its aroma loses its pungency, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and fennel and continue to sauté until the carrots brighten in color and the vegetables begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the stock, orzo, thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, partially covered, until the orzo is cooked through and the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if desired. Stir in the chicken and parsley and continue to cook until the chicken is warmed through.

Chilled Pea Soup with Crème Fraîche and Tarragon

This chilled soup is light and luscious. Each billowy spoonful is a harbinger of spring in both its simplicity and presentation. A sweet blend of English peas is balanced by the brightness of lemon and the tang of crème fraîche. The licorice notes of tarragon and slivers of peppery radish finish the soup, adding freshness and texture, not to mention a beautiful swath of pink to the emerald purée.

Chilled Pea Soup with Crème Fraîche, Lemon and Tarragon

I prefer the savory flavor of the chicken stock in this recipe, but vegetable stock may also be used. Serves 4.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large shallot, finely chopped, about 1/4 cup
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups shelled English peas, about 2 pounds in the pod
1/2 cup crème fraiche
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Fresh tarragon
Sliced radishes

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until translucent without coloring, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the broth, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper and simmer 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
While the stock is cooling, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the peas and cook until vibrant and tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water or shock in ice water to prevent further cooking.
Combine half of the cooled stock and the peas in the bowl of a food processor and process until very smooth. Add additional stock a little at a time and process to achieve desired consistency. (The soup should be a little thick and not too runny). Transfer to a bowl, and season with salt and pepper.
Whisk the crème fraiche and lemon zest in a small bowl. Gently swirl the cream into the peas, leaving light traces of the cream visible. Carefully divide among serving bowls. Garnish with snipped tarragon leaves and sliced radishes.

Spring Peas and Shoots with Pancetta and Orecchiette

pea shoots pasta tastefoodSpring Peas and Shoots with Pancetta and Orecchiette

I hope you like peas, because I have a few pea recipes coming your way. The first is this pasta recipe which I like to make when English peas first appear in the market in March. It’s the essence of early spring, a season which brings a mixed message of cool rain and gentle sunshine. Crispy pancetta swathed in cream and cheese provides winter warmth, while sweet peas and delicate pea tendrils add earthy fragility, an early hint of the garden awakening from its winter slumber. No worries if you can’t get your hands on pea tendrils, which are the wispy shoots of the snow pea plant. This dish is equally delicious simply with pancetta and peas. And for that matter, if you can’t get your hands on fresh peas, then frozen are just fine, too.

Orecchiette with Spring Peas, Pancetta and Pea Shoots

If you are using defrosted frozen peas, add to the sauce in the end to warm through. Serves 4.

1 pound orecchiette
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces pancetta, finely diced
2 cups fresh peas (or defrosted frozen peas)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups pea shoots, loosely packed
1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add orecchiette and cook until al dente according to package instructions. Drain.

While the pasta is cooking, heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add pancetta. Sauté until light golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel. Drain all but 1 tablespoon fat from the skillet. Add fresh peas (if using), garlic and red chili flakes. Sauté until fragrant, 1 minute. Return pancetta to the pan. Add cream, stock, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer until cream is slightly reduced and thickened, and peas are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. (If using defrosted frozen peas, add to the cream after it is reduced and thickened and simmer until peas are heated through). Remove from heat and add the orecchiette to the skillet.  Stir to combine. Add the pea shoots, the cheese, and mint and stir again. Serve immediately with additional cheese for garnish.

Lemon Bars

Lemon Bars

~ very lemony lemon bars ~

‘Tis the season for lemons. Actually, late winter is the season for lemons, but happily the season spills into spring, offering up bushels of citrus which beget light and lovely desserts, such as these Lemon Bars. Lemon Bars are a family favorite, a quintessential childhood treat that pleases adults and kids alike. The key to a good lemon bar, in my book, is that the filling must be intensely lemony packing a wallop of tart, with just enough sugar, but not so sweet that it’s cloying. The final touch is a pinch of sea salt, which keeps the sweetness in check and allows the lemon to shine through.

Lemon Bars

This recipe is adapted from and inspired by many sources, including Ina Garten and, most recently, Lucas’ Lemon Bars from Food52, as well as my personal weakness for sea salt. Makes 32 two-inch square bars.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, plus extra for dusting
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened but still cool, cut in cubes

4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Sea salt flakes, such as Maldon or Fleur de Sel, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a 9 inch by 13 inch baking pan. Line with parchment and butter the parchment. Combine the pastry ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix until the dough resembles coarse lumps and just begins to come together. Dump the dough into the prepared pan and, with your fingers, evenly press the dough to cover the bottom of the pan. Bake the crust until it just begins to turn golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven.
Whisk the filling ingredients together in a large bowl until blended. Evenly pour over the crust. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the filling is set but not coloring, about 25 minutes. Remove and cool completely on a rack. Cut into bars. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and lightly sprinkle with sea salt flakes.

Lemon Risotto with Mint

Lemon Risotto with Mint

I have an opinion about risotto. A good risotto should be creamy, but not soupy. The rice should be tender, but not mushy.  The ingredients should be minimal without overwhelming. My ideal risotto reflects the season, and elegantly plays a role in a meal as a first course or side to a main. Lemon Risotto with Mint accomplishes all of this. It’s planted firmly in spring, redolent with lemon and fresh mint. It’s not too heavy, but creamy and rich enough to keep you coming back for more.

Lemon Risotto with Mint
Serves 6

6 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion or 2 spring onions, white and pale green parts only, finely chopped
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves, plus extra for garnish

Bring stock to a simmer. Reduce heat to lowest setting and keep warm.
Heat 1 tablespoon butter and oil in a deep skillet or pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until softened, 2 minutes. Add rice and stir to coat. Add wine. Cook, stirring, until the wine evaporates. Add stock 1 cup at a time, stirring until nearly all of the liquid is absorbed before adding the next cup. Continue until the rice is tender but not mushy. Remove pan from the heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon butter, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, lemon juice and lemon zest. Add mint leaves and serve immediately in bowls garnished with extra cheese, lemon zest and mint.