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
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.
Citrus is winter’s gift, so why not put this gift to use and make lemon bars? Bright and zingy, Lemon Bars will bring a ray of sunshine into your kitchen. Whether you are knee deep in snow or lucky enough to live where lemons grow on trees, this is one pick-me-up everyone will enjoy at this time of year. Cool creamy custard bursting with zest rests on a firm bed of shortbread. Each bite is a balance of sweet and tart. The recipe is simple and quick to make – the only caveat is that the results are dangerously addictive. Be forewarned: One will never be enough.
Lemon Bars with Sea Salt
This recipe is adapted from and inspired by many sources, including Ina Garten, Food52, and my personal weakness for sea salt. Makes 32 (2-inch) square bars.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened but still cool, cut into cubes
6 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking pan, then line the pan with parchment and butter the parchment.
2. Combine the shortbread 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.
3. Bake the crust until it just begins to turn golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, but do not turn off the oven heat.
4. Whisk the filling ingredients together in a large bowl until blended, then 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.
5. Cut into bars. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and lightly sprinkle with sea salt flakes before serving.
The grill is on.Every day. And at least once a week this involves a whole chicken for a family dinner. In the winter we do it in the oven, and in the summer we do it on the grill. Both methods are similar, while grilling adds a smokier flavor to the chicken meat, especially when using a charcoal grill. Cilantro is also a family favorite, and the marinade for the chicken is chock-a-block full of it. For those who are faint of heart when it comes to cilantro, you can substitute rosemary or thyme with great results (be sure to omit the saffron from the paste).
Make the paste:
Combine garlic, cilantro, lemon juice, 2 teaspoons salt, lemon zest and saffron in a mortar with pestle or bowl of a food processor. Smash or grind to a paste. Stir or pulse in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Rub chicken between skin and breast meat and inside cavity with the paste. Rub the outside of the skin with one tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and black pepper. Place on tray or platter, breast-side up and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before roasting.
Prepare grill for indirect medium heat or preheat oven to 450 F. (225 C.) Place chicken, breast-side up on the grill with a pan below to catch it’s juices. (If roasting in the oven, place chicken in a roasting pan). Close the lid of the grill and roast for 20 minutes. Carefully turn chicken over with tongs. Roast, covered, another 20 minutes. Turn chicken over once more, breast-side up. Continue roasting, covered, 20 minutes. Check to see if chicken is done by carefully cutting skin between breast and thigh. If meat is pink, continue roasting additional 10 – 15 minutes. Chicken is cooked when meat is no longer pink, and clear juices run from the thigh when pierced with a knife. Remove from heat, cover loosely with foil and let rest 15 minutes before carving.
Do not underestimate the power of the side dish. Roasted potatoes are meat’s best friend and a dependable side kick in any season. I serve these potatoes frequently when it’s summer and fresh mint is abundant. The grill is always going, these potatoes are a perfect accompaniment to grilled meat, chicken and fish. The fresh mint and lemon elevate the mild red potato and perfume it with flavor. Be sure to toss the potatoes with the garlic, lemon and mint when they are warm from the oven, so the heat will coax out the aroma of the garnishes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Roasted Potatoes with Mint, Lemon and Garlic Serves 6-8 as a side dish
2 pounds (1 kg.) baby red potatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
Preheat oven to 375 F. (190 C). Toss potatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper. Arrange in one layer in a baking pan. Roast in oven one hour. Transfer potatoes to serving bowl. Toss with 1 teaspoon olive oil, garlic, lemon zest and mint. Serve immediately or cool slightly.
When life hands you a crate of lemons what do you make? I reflected on this question recently, since I was handed a crate with 100 lemons. They were leftovers from a middle school outing in which I participated as a kitchen assistant. Aside from spending time with my daughter and her class in beautiful Mendocino, this crate of lemons was a highlight of the trip. For me, 100 lemons are far more than leftovers – they are a gift.
The first recipe I tackled was Lemon Curd, one of my favorite food products. Lemon Curd is delicious as a garnish with fruit, meringues, cakes and breads. It keeps in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, and also freezes beautifully. I like to make my curd especially lemony, and manage to slip in an entire cup of freshly squeezed juice, as well as a heaping tablespoon of zest. I prefer to keep the sugar content on the conservative side so that the citrus can sparkle.
6 lemons down, 94 to go.
Lemon Curd Makes about 2 cups
8 large egg yolks, whites reserved for another use
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
Combine egg yolks and sugar in a heavy noncorrodible saucepan and whisk together. Add sugar, lemon juice, butter and salt. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. As the butter melts continue stirring until the curd begins to thicken. Do not let the curd boil; if it begins to give off steam, briefly remove pan from heat, stirring constantly. Once the curd thickly coats the back of a wooden spoon, strain the curd through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl and cool. The curd may be refrigerated up to two weeks, or frozen up to 2 months.
You say spring and I say lemons. I also say lamb – and mint. Put all of that together, and you might end up with this lamb dish. It’s a bright and assertive variation on a classic combination of ingredients, with the added kick from the salsa. I like to serve this dish with flageolets, another traditional complement to lamb. The flageolets offer a homey, mellow palate that gently offsets the lamb and the piquant salsa verde.
Grilled Lamb Loin Chops with Lemon Mint Salsa Verde and Flageolets
This recipe is quick and easy to prepare – perfect for a weeknight dinner. Serves 4.
8 lamb loin chops
4-5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley leaves
3 spring onions, green parts only, finely sliced
3 anchovy filets, rinsed and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon salted capers, rinsed, chopped
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Flageolet beans – optional (recipe below)
Arrange lamb in one layer in a deep dish or pan. Coat with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle on all sides with salt and pepper. Let rest at room temperature while you prepare the Salsa Verde.
Combine mint, parsley, green onions, anchovies, garlic, capers, lemon zest and crushed red pepper in a bowl. Gently toss to blend well.
Mix 2 tablespoons olive oil, lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon pepper together in a small bowl. Pour over the salsa. Toss to combine.
Heat a cast-iron grill pan or a skillet with 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add lamb in one layer. Brown on both sides, turning once, about 6 minutes for medium rare. Remove from pan.
If serving with flageolet beans, spoon beans into center of plate. Arrange lamb over beans. Top with Lemon Mint Salsa Verde.
For the flageolets: 2 cups flageolet beans, picked over and rinsed
1 head of garlic, halved horizontally
1 onion, peeled, quartered
1 carrot, peeled, cut in large chunks
3 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
Place the beans in a large pot. Add enough cold water to cover the beans by 2 inches. Bring to a boil; boil one minute. Turn off heat. Cover and let beans sit at room temperature for one hour. Drain and rinse.
Place drained beans, garlic, onion, carrot, thyme and bay leaf in a large pot. Add enough cold water to cover by 3 inches. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until beans are tender, 1-2 hours, depending on age of beans. Remove from heat. Stir in one teaspoon salt. Let beans cool in liquid. (Beans can be prepared one day in advance. Refrigerate in cooking liquid.)
To serve, drain beans, reserving liquid. Heat one tablespoon olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add beans and cook, stirring to coat until beans are heated through. Season with salt and pepper. Add 1/2 cup reserved liquid and heat over medium-low heat. Before serving, stir in chopped parsley.
The elemental salad – often viewed as a dish for dieters, luncheons, and side dishes and, yet, capable of so much more. Here is an example of how one simple salad that makes use of spring’s freshest greens, herbs and vegetables, can be elevated simply by arrangement. A tousle of baby arugula, mint and parsley is heaped on a thick slice of garlic-rubbed peasant bread. Crumbled ricotta salata and lemon zest are scattered over the greens creating a vibrant and snazzy topping to the bruschetta. Versatile and seasonal, this salad is not to be underestimated.
Bruschetta with Spring Greens, Lemon and Ricotta Salata Serves 6
4 cups baby arugula leaves, washed
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup Italian parsley leaves
1 small bunch fresh chives, chopped
1 cup thinly sliced radishes
1 cup shelled English peas, blanched
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 slices peasant or sourdough bread, about 3/4 inch thick
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled, lightly crushed
1/2 cup shaved Ricotta Salata
1-2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
Combine arugula, mint, parsley, chives, radishes and peas in a large bowl. Whisk 1/3 cup olive oil, lemon juice, honey, sea salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Pour 2/3 of the dressing over the greens. Gently toss with hands to combine.
Rub bread slices with garlic cloves. Brush lightly with extra-virgin olive oil. Grill in oven or on griddle pan until toasted and golden brown, turning once. Arrange bread slices on individual plates or platter. Top with salad. Garnish with ricotta salata, lemon zest and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle with remaining dressing.
You say spring, and I say lemons. Bright, citrusy and readily available, we can count on lemons to greet us, as we shake off the winter doldrums and usher spring into our kitchens. This cheesecake is a springtime favorite. Creamy, elegant and redolent with lemon, it pairs mascarpone and cream cheese with rich results. Macerated strawberries are the final touch, bringing a little extra sunshine to your plate.
Lemon Mascarpone Cheesecake with Strawberries
An easy version of a timeless classic. Prepare this cake one day before serving. Serves 10 – 12.
For the crust:
8 ounces graham crackers or digestive biscuits, broken in pieces
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
20 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 ounces Mascarpone cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
For the strawberries:
1 pound strawberries, hulled, halved
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350 F. Tightly wrap the outside of a 9 inch springform pan with foil.
Combine graham crackers and brown sugar in bowl of food processor and finely grind. Add butter and blend using on/off turns until crumbs are moist and clumping together. Press crumbs evenly into bottom and 1 inch up side of springform pan. Chill while preparing filling.
Beat cream cheese, mascarpone and sugar in bowl of electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating 30 seconds after each. Mix in lemon zest and juice. Pour filling into crust. Place cake on a baking sheet. Bake until cake is puffed at edges and center moves slightly when shaken, about one hour. Transfer to rack and cool completely. Cover and chill overnight.
Toss strawberries with sugar and lemon juice in a large bowl. Allow to sit one hour before serving. (Can be prepared 3 hours in advance. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.)
To serve cake, run knife around sides of pan to loosen. Release pan sides. Place cake on plate and cut in slices. Serve with strawberries.
I confess that when I first moved to Paris to study cooking, I was somewhat inflexible in terms of feeding myself. Here I was, twenty-something, educated, professional, and, at least in my opinion, worldly. Now, this is my own small story, but I will dare say that I conformed to a rather structured, and, perhaps American, way of viewing diet and exercise: compulsive, rigorous and disciplined. This translated to a philosophy that excluded butter, red meat, caffeine, little alcohol and included fresh fruit, veggies, fish and so on. It also included a regimen of daily exercise, even if it meant rising at 5 a.m. to squeeze a workout into an active, fully-booked life. A day without exercise was unthinkable; deviation from my super healthy diet bordered on cataclysmic.
So, wouldn’t it make perfect sense that I would apply to cooking school in Paris? Not only cooking school, but the revered, classical, traditional French cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu. Goodness knows what I was thinking. Perhaps it was a subconscious acknowledgement of the starkness of my present routine and the need to just live a little; the gap of an ocean and the excuse of a new culture to step away from life as I knew it. Or perhaps it was the lack of meat protein in my diet that impacted my reasoning skills. Whatever the case, off I went to cook and eat in the land of butter, cream, pastry, runny cheese and terrines, at a school that for over 100 years held the distinguished and elite position of teaching classical French cuisine et pâtisserie.
And guess what? Nothing untoward happened. In fact, lots of delicious, sensual, pleasurable, yummy, gooey, and rich experiences befell me. The foods I wistfully admired from the sidelines of my healthy regimen back in the U.S. became the daily staples of my new Parisian life. I had an encyclopedia of cheeses at my disposal, bakeries on every street corner displayed gorgeous oven-baked breads and flaky croissants, cafés dotted every neighborhood serving comforting French bistro fare. Open air markets peppered the city, and depending on the day I could alter my route to school to pass by stands displaying a rainbow of fresh seasonal produce, glistening fresh meats and a sea of fish. Cheeses, pâtés, and more breads were prominently displayed along with a kaleidescope of cut flowers readily available for the finishing touch to the table.
For exercise I walked to school every day – literally across town – from the 18th to the 15th arrondissement. I risked life and limb crossing streets and boulevards, skirting the occasional mob of striking postal workers, protesting students and subsequent swarms of police, allowing 20 minutes at the minimum to navigate across the sweeping Place de la Concorde as I would officially cross from the right to the left bank over the Seine. Each day I would change my walking route, either purposely or more often erroneously, discovering new streets, neighborhoods, shops and cafés. I had a short list of favorite cafés where I would stop for my morning tartine (avec beurre) and café au lait (avec caféine.) Outside of the school I learned which bakeries had the best sandwiches – simple, satisfying packages with thickly sliced Comté cheese or paper-thin tongues of jambon sechée, a little butter and mustard, and perhaps a cornichon for garnish on a crusty, airy baguette the length of a forearm. So satisfying and so uncomplicated. An afternoon pick-me-up between classes or along my walk home would include an espresso and perhaps atarte au citron– a dollop of perfectly balanced sweet, tart and very lemony curd nestled in a palm-sized shell of pâte sucrée. If I could bear to make dinner after a day of cooking in class, I would improvise a light dish with some of the purchases from the market or head out to a bistro or restaurant on my un-ending list of new places to try. Simply put, my life in Paris revolved around eating, cooking, walking and eating more. I was very happy. Bon Appétit.
Lemon Tart – Tarte au Citron
Makes one 9″ tart
For the pastry – Pâte Sucrée 1 1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut in 1/2″ pieces
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon ice water
Combine flour, sugar and salt in bowl of food processor. Add butter, using on/off turns until the mixture becomes crumbly.
Stir together egg yolk and water in small bowl. Add to flour mixture. Pulse until dough begins to clump together.
Press dough into bottom and up sides of 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Trim edges. Pierce crust all over with fork. Freeze 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line crust with foil. Fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake until crust is set, about 15 minutes. Remove foil and beans or weights. Continue baking until crust is lightly golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool while preparing the filling.
For the Lemon Filling:
6 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
6 tablespoons butter, softened
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons lemon zest
Combine egg yolks and sugar in a medium sauce pan. Mix well to combine. Add remaining ingredients, except for the lemon zest. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. (Do not allow to boil or the mixture will curdle.)
When the mixture changes to a bright yellow color and thickly coats the wooden spoon, remove from heat. Pour through a fine strainer. Discard the residue. Stir in lemon zest.
Pour the filling into the cooled tart shell; it will continue to thicken as it sets. Let it sit at least one hour. Serve at room temperature or cold.