spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little lame baloonman
whistles far and wee
and eddyandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's
when the world is puddle-wonderful
old baloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
~e. e. cummings
It’s that wonderful time of year when everything wakes up and comes back to life. Flowers bloom, birds sing, the weather is a little warmer and our hearts are a little lighter. We put away our winter gear and start looking forward to longer, sunnier days.
The flavors of spring are brighter and lighter than the heavier meals of winter. The menu for this diary tries to highlight those fresh, bright flavors that we haven’t had for a while – sweet peas, lemon and citrus, fresh herbs and wonderful spring vegetables like asparagus, fennel and leeks.
So, like the baloonMan in e.e. cummings’ poem calling the children to play, the kitchen calls us to play with new flavors.
The following recipes will serve four (4) quite nicely or six (6) if you have smaller appetites. As always, cooking times are approximate and should be adjusted to accommodate your stove or oven.
First off: a wonderful, refreshing soup celebrating young spring peas and fresh mint.
Pea and Mint Soup
1 tsp. unsalted butter
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1 large leek, white part only, well washed and sliced thinly, crosswise
Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper
4 cups vegetable broth
3-1/2 cups fresh baby peas (if unavailable, substitute frozen petit pois)
10 large fresh mint leaves
4 croutons (optional)
4 small sprigs fresh mint (optional)
Combine butter and oil in medium saucepan over medium heat until butter is melted. Add leeks and cook slowly for 10 minutes. DO NOT BROWN. Add broth and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Add peas, cover, and cook for approximately 3 minutes or until the mixture just begins to boil. Uncover and cook an additional 2 minutes. DO NOT OVERCOOK OR THE PEAS WILL BEGIN TO LOSE THEIR BRIGHT COLOR. Remove from heat, add mint and allow to cool for approximately 10 minutes.
Transfer to a blender or food processor and process until very smooth. Adjust seasoning as necessary
Pour equal portions into soup bowls and garnish with a crouton topped with a fresh sprig of mint.
Next, our main course: fresh young chicken highlighted with bright citrus and herb flavors.
Roast Chicken with Citrus-Herb Glaze and Pan Sauce
1 whole roasting chicken, 3-4 lbs, washed and patted dry
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1 lemon, quartered
1 medium onion quartered
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/2 cup chicken stock
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
½ cup orange juice
1-cup chicken stock
½ cup mixed chopped fresh herbs (parsley, chives, and thyme)
For Pan Sauce:
½ cup Sauvignon Blanc
1 cup, or more, chicken stock
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 425°F
Generously salt and pepper the cavity of the chicken. Inside the cavity, alternate ½ the lemon, all of the onion, garlic cloves, parsley and thyme. Tie the legs together, tuck the wings under the back of the chicken and place in a roasting pan, breast side up. Pour 1/2 cup of chicken stock into the bottom of the roasting pan.
In a small saucepan, mix all the ingredients for the glaze: butter, lemon juice, orange juice, chicken stock and fresh herbs. Heat the mixture until the butter is just melted. Taste the glaze and adjust as necessary – you want a bright, citrus flavor. Spread part of the glaze over the entire chicken and season with salt and pepper.
Place chicken in the oven and roast for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, brush the chicken with more glaze, rotate the pan and return to the oven for another 15 minutes. Repeat the basting process every 15 minutes for a total cooking time of approximately 1 hour. Reduce the heat to 325, and continue roasting and basting every 15 minutes until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 160 degrees Fahrenheit (approx. 30 more minutes).
NOTE: if necessary, add more chicken stock to the roasting pan if the pan juices are starting to smoke or burn.
Once the chicken has reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees, remove the chicken from the roasting pan, place on a tray and tent with foil to keep warm.
Place the roasting pan with its juices to the stovetop and deglaze the pan with the Sauvignon Blanc, scraping up any brown bits with a wooden spoon. Add the chicken stock and reduce slightly. Remove from heat and add the fresh parsley and chives, the juice from the remaining lemon, and season with salt and pepper as necessary. Place in a sauceboat and keep warm until service.
Cut the chicken into 8 pieces (2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, 2 breast halves and 2 wings) and serve with sauce along side.
OPTION: If you want a thicker sauce, I recommend using a beurre manie (equal parts of uncooked flour and unsalted butter). It will add a richness and sheen to the sauce.
I recommend the following two simple yet very delicious side dishes to accompany your roast chicken. First:
Oven Roasted Fennel and Asparagus
1 large, 2 medium or 4 small bulbs of fresh fennel
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. fresh grated Parmesan cheese
1-pound fresh asparagus
Set oven to 425°F
Cut fennel bulbs into quarters, leaving the core intact to keep the bulb from separating. Toss fennel in a bowl with 1 Tbsp. of olive oil, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese. Lay the fennel on a roasting tray in a single layer, and roast in oven for approximately 15 minutes.
While the fennel is roasting, wash the asparagus and trim it of any thick, fibrous parts. Toss in a bowl with 1 Tbsp of olive oil, salt and pepper.
After 15 minutes, remove the fennel from the oven, turn the pieces and add the asparagus to the roasting tray and return to the oven for 7-10 minutes, depending upon the thickness of the asparagus.
The vegetables are ready when fork tender with a lovely roasted brown color. Serve immediately.
Second, and quite possibly, one of my most favorite vegetable dishes. Four simple ingredients that merge exquisitely:
Gratin of Leeks
6 or 8 medium leeks, white and pale green parts only
1-1/2 cup of heavy cream
Salt and Pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425°F
Split the leeks in half lengthwise and rinse thoroughly under cold water to remove any dirt or grit.
In an ovenproof casserole or gratin dish, arrange the leeks cut side down in a single layer. Pour cream over leeks and season with salt and pepper.
Bake the leeks until the cream has thickened and is almost absorbed by the leeks, approximately 25 minutes, basting once or twice during the baking time.
Remove from oven and serve immediately.
Finally, for dessert: the first strawberries are starting to come out from California. Take advantage of their beautiful lusciousness:
Port Wine Marinated Strawberries with Chantilly Cream
2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
½ cup port wine
2 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
1 tsp. of sugar
½ tsp. grated orange zest
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Fresh mint for garnish
Place the strawberries in a glass or ceramic bowl.
In another bowl, mix together the port, orange juice, sugar, and orange zest. Pour over strawberries, and toss to combine. Cover and marinate at room temperature for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Whip the cream to soft peaks, add powdered sugar and vanilla and whip until firm peaks.
Divide the strawberries equally among 4 serving dishes, top with a dollop of chantilly cream and garnish with a sprig of fresh mint. Serve immediately.
I hope you enjoy this bright spring menu. Share it with those you love.
Peace and Bon Appètit!