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.

Spring Pasta: Orecchiette with Spring Peas, Pancetta and Pea Shoots

Spring Pasta: Orecchiette with Spring Peas, Pancetta and Pea Shoots

Orecchiette with Spring Peas, Pancetta and Pea Shoots

I couldn’t resist the peas. This bowl of pasta is the essence of early spring, a season which brings a conflicting message of cold rain with 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 from a 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
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 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 colored and lightly 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, about 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, half of the cheese and mint and stir again. Serve immediately with additional cheese for garnish.

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.

Linguine with Morels, Asparagus and Peas

Linguine with Morels, Asparagus and Peas

Morels, asparagus and peas team up in this quintessential springtime pasta dish. Earthy mushrooms marry well with astringent asparagus and sweet peas. Famously delicious in sauces, risottos and pasta, these ingredients require little else except a nap of cream and a sprinkling of cheese to bind them all together, resulting in an easy yet elegant seasonal meal.

Linguine with Asparagus, Morels and Fava Beans
Serves 4

1/2 ounce dried morel mushrooms or 1/4 pound fresh morels, cleaned, sliced
1 pound asparagus, ends trimmed, cut in 1″ pieces
Salt
1 pound linguine
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 cup heavy heavy cream
1/2 cup shelled sweet peas
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese

Prepare morels:
If using dried morels, place in a small bowl and cover with boiling water.  Let sit 20 minutes.  Drain and gently squeeze out any extra liquid.  Cut in half lengthwise and set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add asparagus and blanch until crisp-tender and bright green without overcooking, 1 minute.  Remove with slotted spoon and refresh under cold water.  Set aside.
Add linguine to same pot and cook until al dente or firm to the bite according to package instructions; drain.
Heat olive oil and melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic, morels and 1 teaspoon salt.  Sauté until garlic is fragrant and morels are tender, about 2 minutes.  Add chicken stock and cream.  Simmer until thickened and reduced by about half, 5-7 minutes.  Stir in peas and simmer until brightened and crisp tender, 1 minute. Stir in  the asparagus.  Add pasta to the skillet and toss to combine.  Season with lots of freshly ground black pepper. Serve with a generous spoonful of grated cheese for garnish.

Spring “Tabbouleh” – Bulgur Salad with Lemon, Radishes and Snap Peas

Spring “Tabbouleh” – Bulgur Salad with Lemon, Radishes and Snap Peas

Try this salad on for spring: Bulgur Salad with Lemon, Radishes and Snap Peas is packed with fresh herbs and greens, studded with radishes and sugar snap peas. It’s a refreshing version of tabbouleh, milder in flavor and bursting with seasonal vegetables.

What is tabbouleh? An addictively delicious Middle Eastern salad featuring bulgur wheat, steeped in water or stock, then tossed with an abundance of fresh parsley, mint, lemon and seasoning.  Its name translates to “little spicy” which is probably the tipping point for those of us who can’t get enough of this healthy salad.

As a concept I love playing with variations of tabbouleh. This recipe is inspired by the spring vegetables I purchased at the farmers’ market today. Kale flowers, radishes, sugar snap peas and red spring onions are tumbled with bulgur infused with lemon and olive oil. The spicing is gentle, in deference to the mild sweetness of the vegetables, without ignoring the “little spicy” contingent. Delicious and satisfying, enjoy this as a healthy salad, side dish or light main course.  I served it with pita bread and hummus for an easy vegetarian dinner.

Spring “Tabbouleh” – Bulgur Salad with Lemon, Radishes and Snap Peas

The bulgur should be tender but firm when cooked. The kale flowers are optional yet lovely as a bright garnish. Serves 4.

1 cup bulgur
1 1/4 cups water
Salt
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/4 pound sliced sugar snap peas, cut on the diagonal, about 1 cup
1/4 pound sliced radishes, cut in slivers, about 1 cup
1 cup baby arugula leaves
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley leaves
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese, or to taste

Combine bulgur, water and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil; remove from heat.  Cover and let sit until the bulgur absorbs all of the liquid, about 20 minutes. Uncover and add 1/4 cup olive oil and lemon juice, fluffing the bulgur with a fork. Cool to room temperature. Add 1 teaspoon salt and all the remaining ingredients, gently tossing to combine. Taste for seasoning. Serve on a bed of greens or in pita pockets.

Strawberry Ricotta Bruschetta with Lemon and Arugula

Strawberry Ricotta Bruschetta with Lemon and Arugula

Strawberries are not just for dessert. They are also stunning in salads, lending sweet acidity to the peppery earthiness of greens. In this case, strawberries are jumbled with arugula as a topping for bruschetta. Creamy, lemon flecked ricotta anchors the salad to the bread, while a balsamic vinaigrette dresses the dish. Hello Spring!

Strawberry Ricotta Bruschetta with Lemon and Arugula

Be sure to use a fresh ricotta for this recipe. A creamy, mild goat cheese may be used in place of the ricotta. Makes 2.

2 large strawberries, hulled, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 slices peasant or levain bread
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
1/4 cup fresh ricotta or mild goat cheese, room temperature
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup arugula leaves, washed and dried
Freshly ground black pepper

Toss the strawberries and balsamic vinegar together in a small bowl; set aside. Preheat oven broiler. Brush bread slices with olive oil. Sprinkle with a little salt. Broil in the oven until golden brown, turning once.
Smear the ricotta over the bread slices. Sprinkle with lemon zest. Pile arugula on the bruschetta. Remove the strawberries from the vinegar, shaking off excess liquid, and arrange over the arugula. Whisk 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt into the remaining vinegar. Drizzle over and around the bruschetta. Garnish with black pepper.

Spring Chicken and Vegetable Soup

Spring Chicken and Vegetable Soup

Here is another soup recipe that sings spring. Spring Chicken and Vegetable Soup is filled with seasonal vegetables including green garlic. Appearing in the markets right now, green garlic is the younger rendition of the ubiquitous papery garlic bulb. Like any youngster, this version  is sassy, sharp and full of swagger. But with a little heat, all of that bravado fades away. The green garlic softens, mellows and loses its pungency, resulting in a smooth aromatic backdrop to this light and healthy soup.

Spring Chicken and Vegetable Soup

Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped green garlic, white and pale green parts
Salt
1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup orzo
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken meat (optional)
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

Heat oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add green garlic and 1 teaspoon salt. Sauté until garlic softens and its aroma loses its sharpness, 5 minutes. Add fennel and carrots and continue to sauté until the vegetables brighten in color and begin to soften, 2 minutes. Add stock, orzo and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer, partially covered until orzo is cooked through and vegetables are tender, 15 – 20 minutes. Taste for salt. Stir in chicken and parsley; continue to cook until the chicken is warmed through. Serve immediately in warm bowls.