Spring – it evokes visions of green buds sprouting from the sun-warmed earth; fresh fruits, crisp salad greens, and mouth-watering recipes conjured in the kitchen and served on a breezy sun porch. Spring flowers, Spring fever; it’s all about the fresh, clean renewal of life. It’s also about an abundance of just-picked produce, ripe for creating new spring dishes.
A bounty of fruits and vegetables are available in the spring. Strawberries reach their peak in the spring, with cherries available at the end of the season. Carrots, asparagus, artichokes, peas, sweet onions, new potatoes, scallions and spring salad greens are at their finest. Valencia and Navel oranges add their sweet perfume to delicious spring fare.
For a luscious spring breakfast, try Benedict Egg Cups. Cut out rounds of bread (a good whole grain bread works well or a buttery white). The rounds should be about four inches in diameter. Butter them and press into the muffin tin butter side down. Place a piece of Canadian bacon, ham or bits of cooked, smoked bacon over the bread. Crack an egg in each cup and bake in a 350 degree oven until the egg is set (white cooked, but yolk still runny). Prepare Blender Hollandaise by placing three egg yolks, two tablespoons lemon juice and a dash of hot sauce in a blender and pulse a few times; melt a stick of butter and drizzle into the blender slowly while on a medium setting until sauce thickens. Add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle the Hollandaise sauce over each egg cup and enjoy a simplified version of traditional Eggs Benedict.
Artichokes make a great snack with a piquant lemon aioli sauce. Poach the artichokes (after trimming) in a couple inches of water with garlic and lemon for about 30-40 minutes (you may also want to add a little white wine). Remove the leaves and place on a serving platter, discarding the fuzzy choke portion. You can make your own homemade aioli or mix a half cup of mayonnaise with two tablespoons lemon juice, one teaspoon lemon zest, Dijon mustard, minced garlic and salt and pepper; this makes a great short-cut version of aioli. Artichoke leaves are eaten by scraping the soft, pulpy side of the leaf against the teeth after dipping. A delicious snack for Spring Brunch.
A light spring salad is always welcome when the weather turns warmer. Combine Spring Greens (a mixture of any of the following: butter/Boston lettuce, escarole, arugula, baby spinach, watercress, radicchio and/or chard) with torn romaine. You can buy the greens pre-made in a bag or plastic clam-shell container, or make up your own mixture. The arugula and chard have a slightly stronger taste than other greens, so use them to suit your taste. The salad mixture can be topped with sliced pears or apples sprinkled with walnuts and shavings of parmesan cheese, then a drizzle of Dijon vinaigrette. For a slightly heartier salad, top the greens with a scoop of Tarragon Chicken Salad and some sliced Roma tomatoes, then drizzle with a honey vinaigrette. To make the chicken salad, used diced leftover roasted chicken. Mix with chopped celery, slivered almonds, mayonnaise, dried tarragon and salt and pepper to taste. Great for a light spring lunch!
Now for dinner. As a native Floridian, I find fresh seafood is always available and plentiful. A delectable twist on Crab Oscar makes use of fresh crabmeat and tender spring asparagus. Steam asparagus, fresh peas and thinly pared ribbons of baby carrot. Reserve asparagus, then mix peas and carrots with angel hair pasta. Place a bed of the angel hair mixture on each plate. Poach snow crab legs in lemon butter and place several pieces of asparagus and crab on top of the pasta. Drizzle with a lemony Hollandaise. Serve with a side salad and buttered, toasted slices of baguette for a memorable dinner.
Now for the crowning touch – dessert. I love a yummy New York style cheesecake topped with fresh, sweet strawberries and whipped cream. However, since cherries are in season at the end of spring, Cherries Jubilee also makes a delicious top-off for the evening. Bring a cup of cherry juice to a boil; add a couple of tablespoons of the juice to a tablespoon of cornstarch and a quarter cup of sugar; mix into boiling juice. Remove from heat and add fresh pitted cherries. Lower heat and return to stove for a few minutes until mixture is thickened and cherries cook through. Remove from heat and add a tablespoon of butter and two tablespoons each of Kirsch and brandy. I prefer the non-flambéed version; no sense inviting trouble by setting things on fire in the kitchen. Serve the cherries over a small piece of pound cake and a couple of scoops of vanilla bean ice cream.
Now your all-day spring feast is complete. So, start cooking with all these fresh spring fruits and vegetables and get ready to harvest the compliments!