Earlier this month when it was my turn to host book club, I was at a loss for what to serve. We always have a generous offering of seasonal appetizers and sweets, but this year in New England spring has brought cold temperatures and even snow to us. Finally, I came up with a menu: a hearty and savory Gorgonzola cheesecake garnished with grapes, apple slices, and crisp crackers, plus a creamy fresh crab dip with orange-scented toasts, and caramel almond squares accompanied by a bowl of berries and whipped cream.
The crab dip, my nod to warmer weather, was a big hit with my fellow readers. Its creaminess comes from cream cheese whipped with Parmesan, and then seasoned with spring accents of tarragon and chives, plus a hefty citrus note of orange. Served atop Continue reading
Although the calendar declares that spring officially got under way this week, you wouldn’t know it by the weather in New England. Predictions of snow have been the constant refrain of our weather forecasters, and even though our town has received only light snowfalls, it still feels like winter here.
I’ve countered the cold by cooking spring dishes. Although not local yet, bunches of asparagus and fresh peas have been on display in our markets—an inspiration for cooks to transition from one season to the next. One main course that I’ve prepared several times is a risotto studded with slices of asparagus and peas, and topped with sautéed sea scallops. At last count I had made it three times this month for my husband and me!
Risotto requires your undivided attention. Prepared by stirring simmering stock into a Continue reading
Last Saturday when I arrived at my local farmers’ market in our small New England town, the crop that captured my attention was rhubarb. Resting regally on a folding table at one of my favorite stands were bundles of deep red and pale green stalks. I quickly picked up three bunches, knowing that the following week I needed rhubarb for a dessert in one of my cooking classes.
Although typically treated as a fruit, rhubarb is actually a plant with a tartness that requires a complement of sugar. The dessert I had planned was a warm rhubarb and strawberry crumble (which calls for both white and brown sugars); it takes only 20 minutes to assemble and then about half an hour in the oven. For the filling sliced rhubarb and strawberries are dusted with sugar and aromatic spices including cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. A traditional topping of flour, oats, brown sugar, and nuts (I used sliced almonds) Continue reading
Last month while in London on spring break, my husband and I opted for a quick lunch one day at one of the many Prêt à Manger fast food restaurants located throughout the city. After a few bites of a simple but unusual salad, I pulled out my phone and starting taking photos. My spouse looked on, surprised that I was snapping shots in this popular eatery, not exactly a foodie destination.
The dish that caught my eye was a salad prepared with edamame, peas, and diced avocado tossed with cilantro sprigs and dressed in a spicy sesame dressing. The taste was light yet satisfying, and the varied verdant hues of the ingredients gave the dish visual heft.
Back home, I devoted a morning to trying to reproduce the recipe and came up with a close facsimile. The sesame dressing assembled with both rice vinegar and lemon juice for tart notes, gets some heat from red pepper flakes and a hit of saltiness from soy sauce.
Three cups of loosely packed cilantro sprigs replace lettuce greens in this dish, and can be cleaned several hours ahead and refrigerated.
Pair this spring green salad with grilled chicken or lamb, roasted salmon fillets, or pan-seared scallops for dinner or serve it with soup for a light lunch or supper.
This 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
Far 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
Za’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
Spring Pizza ready to go into the oven.
Spring Pizza after baking.
Cutting the first slice!
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
Gnocchi alla romana with roasted asparagus
Table setting for spring dinner
Gnocchi spread on a chopped board and ready to be chilled
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
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