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Food/Wine columnist and features writer Jane Dunne never runs out of ideas when it comes to cooking for family, entertaining at home or dining out. Her blog covers the gamut-literally from soup to nuts.
Now that Mother Nature has finally made up her mind, we can all get out and plant our patio flowers and the annuals in our herb garden. What we want more than anything else is time outdoors in the sunshine and nothing labor-intensive in the kitchen.
Here are two of my favorite go-to spring dishes, neither of which will tie you to the stove for more than a few minutes. The Chicken Piccata is perfect with fresh asparagus and Sauvignon Blanc and the pasta is perfect with a green salad and a glass of Chardonnay.
CHICKEN PICCATA (4 servings)
When spring won't settle down, I comfort myself by planning menus for meals I'd like to make when we're finished with all this nonsense. Here's a lunch I will definitely serve some spring weekend when there are friends or family here for lunch.
First, I'll create a platter of just poached asparagus spears. I'll grate the rind from a navel orange so I have 2 teaspoons zest. Then I'll peel that orange and a second one, carefully removing the white pith. Sliced into rounds, those oranges will decorate my asparagus platter. I'll sprinkle the asparagus with a bit of salt and drizzle with a vinaigrette dressing to which I've added the orange zest. A drift of finely chopped fresh mint or parsley will garnish. I'll serve this gorgeous presentation as a first course with toasted Italian or French bread slices.
Worth the splurge for the main course in my spring lunch are crab cakes, here served with a tarragon tartar sauce. A great partner is a red cabbage and carrot slaw. I'll serve a chilled chardonnay or sauvignon blanc throughout the meal. For dessert, vanilla ice cream scooped into some of my largest wine glasses and topped with warm blueberry sauce.
Olives are as old as the history of man. As Mort Rosenblum mentions in his book, "Olives" (North Park Press, 1998), Greek athletes lubricated their bodies with olive oil and the first Olympic flame was a burning oil bough. The Romans even had a separate stock market and merchant marine for olive oil. Stories like this abound through the millennia.
By the 10th century, olive groves covered the Mediterranean basin
across southern Europe and northern Africa. Spanish missionaries brought olives to the New World in 1500, and later Italian immigrants carried the olive to South America, Australia and southern Africa. Today, there are about 800 million olive trees in the world with annual product sales of more than 10 billion dollars.
A couple of days ago I made hash with some corned beef left over from St. Patrick's Day. My hash is good, but doesn't touch my brother's who makes the best I've ever tasted, hands down. I also recall the red flannel hash from my New England childhood - not a favorite - (the hash, not the childhood.)
Here are a couple of hash recipes I love. The sweet potato and chipotle hash has a smoky sweetness that melds beautifully
with the crisp bacon bits and is a great base for a poached or fried egg. It's adapted from a recipe by Adam Roberts, the Gourmet. The more elegant chicken hash needs quite a bit of chopping but the end product is totally worth it.
Saint Patrick's Day again - incredibly fast it seems. As always I've given a nod here to my favorite Irish author, the late Moira Laverty, who wrote so lovingly of the people and the goings-on in her small village, Ballyderrig.
...It seems unbelievable that there was a time, not so very long ago, when our village knew nothing of the intricacies of cake-making.
Now, American chocolate cookies and pineapple upside-down cake seem practically indigenous! It is Polly Sweeney who must be thanked for teaching Ballyderrig to rise above currant bread.
Mornings are brighter, sunsets are later and, in spite of the rash of snowstorms, I like to think of this time of year as the "home stretch". Within a couple of weeks we'll be turning our clocks ahead in anticipation of spring. Meanwhile, more hibernation is fine with me, especially when sharing the occasional good supper and glass of wine.
WARM FARRO AND CRANBERRY BEAN SALAD
The meteorologists tell us we are more than half-way through winter. I'm sure those on the east coast would bitterly scoff at that as they continue to dig themselves out. We Chicagoans, however, have had it easy and find such weather statements believable. I'm getting bored with so much hearty food and could stand some lightening up - and I know I'm not alone.
Here are a couple of really good main course salads to tide you through to spring no matter where you are.
ROASTED SALMON WITH SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS, LEEKS AND ARUGULA (4 servings)
Writer, Bellamy Partridge, the father of one of my school friends, wrote a novel when I was about 14 entitled "January Thaw". I thought about that book this morning...not just because it was one of the first truly grown-up books I'd ever read, but because of how Januarys were back then.
Growing up in New England, there was usually snow upon the ground from Thanksgiving straight through most of January, with temperatures consistently cold enough to keep it there. I am old enough to remember the sound of tire chains chink-a-chinking along the roads and the crisp crunch of snow underfoot as being just normal...the way of our winters. Around the middle of January, the temps would suddenly rise into the high 40's - sometimes even the 50's - and, warmed by the sun, the snow would begin to melt, the little brooks in my neighborhood "burbling" through their melting ice covers, the last of the icicles dripping from roof tops - and, in spite of the fact that in no time we were in a sea of messy slush, there was a lightness about everything. We knew the January thaw wouldn't last more than a couple of days before we'd get another blow and with it another snowstorm - but still, didn't it feel like spring was around the corner?
No matter what the season, my Dad was in charge of Sunday night supper. I so well remember these hearty sandwiches - perfect on a cold winter night. Both are eaten with knife and fork and go well with a green salad on the side. A nice glass of wine wouldn't hurt either.
January, I've been told, is soup month, but I don't need a special month in which to make a pot of soup in the winter. I adore soup - especially heart-warming, soul-soothing Ribollita which could very well be my favorite, as it is Mario Batali's. The second soup, Golden Vegetable, is supposedly attributed to Lulu Powers who was Madonna's caterer in London.
Either soup benefits from a stay in the 'fridge overnight so the flavors meld. Bring to room temperature before reheating - and make sure you serve in nice warm bowls.
RIBOLLITA (serves 6)
I was lucky enough one weekend this Fall to be a houseguest of a true (and fellow) biscuit lover. Nothing frozen out of a can for that lady; biscuits were from scratch and heavenly, reminding me very much of those my paternal grandmother used to make.
My friend, the biscuit lady, made oversize ones for a breakfast buffet for her lucky guests. Arrayed beside the basket of warm split biscuits were soft-scrambled eggs with pepper-jack cheese, sausage patties, shredded sharp cheddar, crisp bacon with a small side dish of mango chutney, slices of ham with honey mustard and, of course, there was butter and strawberry jam. It was very hard to choose a filling but somehow we managed. Except for one who put small dollops of everything on a plate and buttered the biscuit which he ate on the side. A large fruit bowl and plenty of hot coffee and tea rounded out our breakfast.
My friend baked her biscuits the day before, wrapped them in foil and stowed them, room temp., in a zip-lock bag. She then quickly and gently reheated them in the oven just before serving. Since there were several more of us than six, she made a double batch. She doesn't recommend freezing them.