That Divine French Sauce, Beurre Blanc, Stars in a Spring Meal

Scallops, Asparagus, Beurre Blanc 2 4032x3024This past week I taught two hands-on classes titled Paris Spring Cooking. The menu included artichoke soup, scallops with asparagus and peas napped with beurre blanc, and as sides a watercress and orange salad, and crispy rice cakes with Comté cheese. By far the technique that interested my students most was that of making the celebrated French sauce known as beurre blanc.

Beurre blanc (or white butter) is one of the simplest of France’s sauces, yet many cooks have never prepared it. It consists of two simple steps. First you add minced shallots, wine, and vinegar to a good sturdy saucepan. Then, cook the mixture until almost all of the liquid has evaporated. For the second step, you whisk in a tablespoon of cream and begin adding small pieces of softened butter while whisking vigorously. The trick is to never let the butter melt completely, but rather keep it at a sauce-like consistency. When all the butter has been incorporated, the sauce can be transferred in its saucepan to a skillet of warm water to keep it from solidifying. Continue reading

A Fabulous Dish for my Vegetarian Friends

Rice with Peas, Mint, and Pecorino 1 4032x3024Far more than in the past, I find myself considering my friends’ eating habits when we entertain. Are you gluten-free? Do you eat sugar? Are you vegetarian? are questions I ask routinely. And the most resounding “ yes” I hear is to the last of these. Always deferential, my vegetable-loving pals respond that they don’t expect a special meal, that they’ll be fine enjoying salad and side dishes at dinner. But what fun is that for them! It’s like being invited to the theatre, and saying I’ll be okay seeing only the 2nd and 3rd acts. So, I am always searching for delicious vegetarian main courses to share with my expanding circle of discriminating guests.

Rice with peas, fresh mint, and Pecorino will not disappoint. Here is a beautiful spring entrée prepared with easy- to-find ingredients that is uncomplicated to assemble. You start by making a quick “pea pesto” pureeing peas (fresh or frozen) with pine nuts, mint, and Pecorino.The intensely flavored mixture is then tossed with warm cooked rice. Continue reading

Spring Salad with a Delicious Za’atar Dressing

Spring Greeens with Za'tar Dressing 1 4032x3024Za’atar refers to a plant whose leaves have been used in cooking since ancient times in the Middle East, but it is also the name for a very popular spice mix used throughout that part of the world. A fragrant blend of dried herbs, often including thyme and oregano, as well as sesame seeds and sumac (a spice with a tangy lemon taste made from ground berries), za’atar adds a robust flavor to many dishes. Rub it on grilled meats or chicken, or sprinkle it over yogurt or hummus. Or use it in a delicious dressing for a spring salad like the one that my friend Joy Howard created.

I first spotted this dressing on Joy’s Instagram feed, and immediately wanted to try it. Instead of using dried herbs she chops fresh thyme and oregano, then combines them with sumac, sesame seeds, and garlic. Mixed with lemon juice and olive oil, the za’atar quickly becomes a dressing. For this salad, soft, tender greens work best. You toss them Continue reading

A Delicious Pizza for Warming Spring Days

This week in the supermarket, I had a eureka moment while standing in front of a display of sleek, slim bundles of asparagus. Why not turn the tempting spears into a topping for pizza instead of using them as a side dish or tossing them with strands of cooked pasta– my usual methods of cooking this spring vegetable.

Within minutes, I had a plan. At the cheese counter I chose a piece of Taleggio, a soft creamy Italian cheese that melts beautifully. A package of those sweet little cippolini onions beckoned as well, especially since they were being sold peeled. To round out the toppings, I decided on brown (cremini) mushrooms. Continue reading

What’s a Cook to Serve in Unpredictable Weather

Spring is officially underway, but New England hasn’t gotten the memo. Temperatures here recently climbed to 70, accompanied by clear, blue skies, and then fell suddenly to the 20s with a daylong snowfall. Each morning this week I’ve checked the weather even before my texts and email (a first!), debating what to wear. And, of course, I wonder what to cook! For a small dinner we hosted for out-of- town friends this weekend, I spent as much time planning the menu as preparing it. In the end the night’s dishes reflected this transitional time of year, satisfying yearnings for both cold and warm weather fare.

Our opener—gnocchi alla romana with roasted asparagus–was a good example.
The gnocchi, assembled Roman style with farina rather than potatoes, are enriched with Parmesan and butter, cut into rounds, and then baked. Served piping hot atop bundles of asparagus, they seemed to welcome spring and acknowledge winter at the same time. Continue reading

Soup Making with Young Cooks!

Brodo with Spring Peas, Pancetta, and Mint Several days ago two young women, both seniors at Amherst College where my husband teaches, emailed that they had some free time the following week to come and cook with me in my kitchen. Stellar students as well as passionate foodies, they had, during their four years of taking rigorous courses at the college, often found extra hours to cook and, of course, to sample recipes with me. This would be the last time before graduation for us to be in the kitchen together, so I picked some special dishes, including a soup with spring peas, mint, and pancetta.

To prepare the dish we made a rich but quickly assembled broth and then added orecchiette (small ear-shaped pasta), fresh peas, snow peas, and chopped bibb lettuce to the simmering liquid. The brodo was garnished with crispy bits of pancetta, fresh mint, and a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano. From our first sips, we all adorned this soup with its Continue reading

Spring Cooking—Delicious Risotto

Spring Risotto 1Will spring ever arrive?” is the question on everyone’s mind in our small New England town. After one of the longest and harshest winters in years, we are desperate for the season of renewal to begin in full force, but temperatures are way below normal and rains seem to be never ending.

There are glimmers of hope— daffodils are blooming, yards have returned to a verdant hue, and in the markets there are stately bundles of asparagus, gorgeous peas, and bunches of tender spring onions, all harbingers of the season (even if not all local). This produce has been heartening and prompted me to cook lighter, vegetable-inspired dishes like spring risotto studded with sliced sugar snaps and fresh peas. Continue reading

Red Quinoa Is So Cool!

Pan-Seared Scallops with Red Quinoa and Fennel 1Last week we drove into Boston to take advantage of the city’s annual Dine Out Boston. For this event, many of the town’s best restaurants offer $38 three-course menus. We opted for Zebra’s Bistro in the western suburb of Medfield and were joined by our son and his wife, food lovers par excellence. Wontons stuffed with braised short rib on sriracha cole slaw and crispy falafel garnished with beet yogurt were winning starters. Braised lamb stew with homemade pasta was a delectable main, but my favorite dish of the night was pan-seared trout atop a warm red quinoa salad.

I rarely cook with quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah), but this dish made me a convert. An ancient, nutrient-packed grain that is gluten-free, quinoa comes in varied colors (the most common is beige). My red quinoa salad, prepared with small burgundy-hued grains, was a perfect visual foil for coral-tinted trout, and was the inspiration for the recipe that follows. Continue reading

A Cooking Class That Provides A Taste of Paris!

Tina's Finacier Cake 3This week I found myself completely absorbed with cooking classes. A demo course planned for twenty students met with far more popularity than I had expected.  In the end I gave the class twice, two nights in a row, to more than 40 people. The title “I Love Paris in the Springtime Bistro Supper” might have had something to do with the deluge of people scrambling for a spot.  After decades of teaching, I’ve learned that my students often find that food can provide a virtual if not a geographical visit to a favorite place.

Betty teaching at Different Drummer's KitchenThe menu for this dreamy escape to France’s capital began with warm mushroom and scallion tarts paired with a salad of spring greens tossed in sherry vinaigrette. Next came sautéed scallops set atop asparagus and fresh peas, all napped with herbed beurre blanc sauce, plus mounds of extra-light whipped potatoes. The finale was a buttery, almond financier cake garnished with homemade crème fraiche ice cream and fresh berries. Continue reading

Extra Special Pancakes—For Moms with Love!

Photo by Susie Cushner

Photo by Susie Cushner

 For Mother’s Day many of us either send a card, make a call, or wire flowers, but what could be more thoughtful than starting this celebration with a homemade meal! As a cook and a mom, I love turning the kitchen over to my son and grand kids on this special day. My daughter-in-law, mother par excellence, shares my feelings.

This year we’ll all be together on May 12th, and since our family loves to make pancakes for brunch, griddled fare will have a starring role on the menu. Among my favorite breakfast recipes are Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce, which some of you may recognize from my newest book, Sunday Brunch. Continue reading