April 2, 2014 - Radio Kitchen - Welcome, Spring
All right, the calendar page has turned. It is officially April and it is well past the turn of the seasons, so let's have us some Spring! The era of root vegetables, God bless 'em, is behind us, and the era of Primavera is at hand. And as Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Waterfront Kitchen knows, cuisines all over the world know how to celebrate the coming of Spring.
Let's start with a simple soup that can be modified any number of ways. At Clementine Restaurant in Lauraville, I had a steaming bowl of Caldo Verde, a classic Portuguese dish. The recipes always call for kale as the principal green in the soup, but in honor of Spring, I'm going to add baby spinach to the mix.
Springtime Caldo Verde
Olive oil for sautéing
1 1/2 cups yellow onions, diced
1 tbs minced garlic
2 pounds thin skinned white potatoes, peeled and cubed
10 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 lb chorizo or linguica sausage, skinned and cut into 1/4 " disks
1/2 pound kale
1/2 pound baby spinach
salt and pepper
red wine vinegar to taste
1. In a large sauce pan, cook the onions and garlic over low heat until they are translucent.
2. Add the chicken broth, potatoes, cayenne pepper and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for an hour. Allow the potatoes to break up, or hurry them along by mashing them.
3. When the soup has thickened with the mashed potatoes, add the sausage and cook for about 15 minutes.
4. Roll the kale leaves into a tight roll, and slice them cross-ways, creating thin chiffonade strips. If your spinach leaves are big enough to chiffonade, do that too, of just shred them with a knife. Add the kale to the soup first, and cook until it wilts. Then add the spinach, which will cook quickly.
5. Season with salt and pepper, and you may pour a little olive oil or red wine vinegar into the soup for extra texture and flavor.
Anne Willan, the great British cooking school master, is a very reliable source of easy but satisfying recipes. Here's one from her book Good Food, No Fuss that is perfect for these early transitional days of Spring.
Pasta Pie With Spring Greens
1 1/2 lbs assorted Spring greens: baby spinach, mustard greens, arugula, Savoy cabbage and kale are all candidates
olive oil for sautéing
1/2 lb uncooked merguez sausage, broken up into pieces
3 medium yellow onions, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp ground allspice
2 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper
2 eggs, beaten
12 oz. rigatoni or fusili pasta
1 28 oz. can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
1. To make the filling, sauté the sausage in a skillet until it begins to brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
2. Add the onions to the same skillet and fry until golden brown. Stir in the garlic and allspice and cook for one minute, stirring often.
3. Shred the greens, using chiffonade cuts, and stir them into the onions in the skillet. Pour the chicken stock over the mixture and cook the greens until they are wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage back in, and season with salt and pepper. Add in the beaten eggs and stir thoroughly. The mixture should be moist.
4. Cook the pasta until it is al dente, and drain it.
5. Grease a 9x13 baking dish. Spread about a third of the greens mixture into the dish, then cover with a layer of cannellini beans, then sprinkle some cheese and add a layer of pasta. Repeat until you fill the dish, topping it with the pasta and cheese.
6. Bake in a 350 degree oven until it is hot and the pasta has browned.
Asparagus is synonymous with Spring, and so is the Easter ham. Here's a nice breakfast dish that uses up some leftover ham and fresh asparagus from the market.
Asparagus with Ham and Grits
A Radio Kitchen Original Recipe
16 thin asparagus spears, trimmed to about 6" lengths
2 cups water
1 cup half and half
1 cup of cooking grits (not the instant kind)
salt to taste
1/4 stick of butter
1/2 cup mild goat cheese
1 1/2 cups cubed ham
olive oil for sautéing
4 large eggs
freshly ground pink pepper
1. Blanch the asparagus until it is cooked through, about 1 minute, drain, shock with ice water, keeping them bright green and set aside.
2. To cook the grits, bring the water and half and half mixture to a boil, add the salt and slowly pour in the grits. Stir well until the grits are well mixed. Allow the pot to boil a second time, then reduce the heat to a simmer, and cover the pot. Check on the grits occasionally, give them a stir, and add more water if needed.
3. When the grits are done, add the butter and crumble in the goat cheese. Stir to evenly distribute.
4. In a small skillet, quickly sauté the ham until it just starts to brown. Off heat, add the cooked asparagus to the skillet to re-warm.
5. In another pan of gently seething water, poach the four eggs, and trim away any excess egg white.
6. To assemble, lay the asparagus spears on a plate in a diamond shape. Spoon the grits into the middle of the plate, making a slight mound. With the back of a spoon, make a small dent in the center of the grits to accommodate the poached egg. Sprinkle the cubed ham over the plate and grind the fresh pink peppercorns for a final garnish.