There comes a time every year when it’s looking, smelling and feeling a lot like spring and yet a quick glance at the calendar will tell you that winter is definitely not yet over.
Most years there’s a day or two of this Not-Quite-Spring here and there but this year it’s been going on for weeks and Not-Quite-Spring is starting to feel like a fifth season.
It’s hard enough to know what to wear during Not-Quite-Spring — coat, jacket, sweater, tank top and flip flops — who knows? But it’s even more difficult to know what to eat.
Even the most devoted evangelist of kale has got to be getting tired of kale salads and rough winter greens when it’s so warm out and all the pollen in the air is telling your respiratory tract that the growing season is upon us.
But it really isn’t.
So what to cook while we wait for opening day of the farmer’s market? Something lighter and brighter that looks and tastes like warm weather without depending on summer crops that just aren’t available yet without paying exorbitant prices for out of season produce.
Try mixing things up. Roasted potatoes are about as wintry as it gets but roast up a batch of baby potatoes in multiple colors — yellow, white and purple — and immediately, it looks springy. The recipe that follows for Confetti Potatoes and Pearl Onions is a perfect example. Even when spring is finally here for real, this could be your go-to recipe until summer. It would make a beautiful addition to an Easter pot luck.
Sprigs of fresh rosemary enhance the spring feeling in this dish. Since, theoretically, rosemary is an evergreen that will winter over in a protected spot in your garden or in a pot in the house, it is always in season. But don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get it to last all winter. It takes a gifted gardener to do that. The rest of us have to shell out for fresh rosemary at the grocery store or snag some from a green-thumbed friend.
The recipe that follows for One-Pan Spring Tuscan Quinoa Bake hits all the right notes for a not-quite-spring dinner. It’s a pretty standard baked pasta dish with a twist. The twist is that there’s no pasta. It’s been switched out for quinoa. And mostly it doesn’t require a lot of fresh produce. Everything comes from jars or the spice rack except for a few red peppers and some cherry peppers. But they really shine in the dish and make paying out-of-season prices worth it.
This is one of those recipes that can serve more as a guide than a blueprint. Feel free to experiment. Don’t have dried parsley. Leave it out. No ricotta cheese in the fridge. Use that cottage cheese instead you’ve eat for breakfast instead. Don’t like artichokes. Maybe you have some roasted red peppers in the fridge. Are you vegetarian? Leave out the pepperoni. Vegan? Leave out the pepperoni and substitute vegan cheese. You get the idea.
Might as well have some fun during Not-Quite-Spring while you’re waiting for something to happen in your garden or at the produce stand. This weekend Daylight Savings Time will bring us one hour closer to the real spring.
One-Pan Spring Tuscan Quinoa Bake
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sun-dried tomato pesto
1 tbsp. dried basil
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. dried dill
1 tsp. crushed red pepper (or to your liking)
1-2 cloves garlic minced or grated
salt and pepper to taste
1 can black olives, halved
1 – 12 oz. jar quartered marinated artichokes, drained (and optionally roasted)
6 pickled pepperoncinis, roughly chopped (optional)
3 cups cooked quinoa (see note at end)
small tub ricotta cheese
8 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
2-3 red bell peppers, sliced
3 oz. pkg pepperoni
2-4 ounces pecorino, Asiago or Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
cherry tomatoes and freshly torn basil for topping
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Add the olive oil (make sure the oil covers the entire bottom of the baking dish, if not add more oil), now add the sun-dried tomato pesto, dried basil, dried parsley, dried oregano, dried dill, crushed red pepper, garlic and salt and pepper to a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. To the baking dish add the cooked quinoa, the olives, artichokes and pepperoncinis. Toss well until all the ingredients are evenly distributed. Dollop the ricotta over the mixture and gently mix to combine. Over the top, sprinkle on the mozzarella cheese and then scatter the sliced red peppers over top. At this point it will seem like there are too many peppers, but this is fine. They will cook down. Place the pepperonis on top. Sprinkle on top 2-4 ounces of pecorino or other cheese and another drizzle of olive oil. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until the top is browned and the peppers have softened. Remove from the oven and garnish with fresh basil, tomatoes and more pecorino or parmesan.
Cook your quinoa according to package directions. For 3 cups cooked quinoa, you should need 1 1/2 cups dry quinoa + 3 cups water. Bring the water to a boil and add the dry quinoa. Reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer 20-30 minutes or until the quinoa is fluffy. This should yield around 3 cups cooked quinoa.
Confetti Potatoes and Pearl Onions
About two pounds mixed baby potatoes (mix of yellow, white and gold)
About one pound pearl onions (mix of colors, purple, white and brown)
4 sprigs of rosemary
4-6 sprigs of thyme
Heat the oven to 400°F. Cut the potatoes into quarters – just a little larger than the onions. Cut the top off each onion, then slice in half and shuck away the skin. Toss the potatoes in a bowl and drizzle with about 1/4 cup of olive oil, at least 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and a teaspoon of pepper. Adjust to taste. Pour the potatoes and onions into a 9×13 baking dish. Cut each sprig of herbs into 4 pieces and tuck in among the potatoes. Roast for about 35-40 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.
Fettuccine With Shiitakes And Asparagus
This seasonal (and vegetarian) twist on carbonara includes asparagus, one of the first vegetables to come into season. It also includes some theatricality as a raw egg yolk is plopped onto the top of the steaming hot pasta and stirred in at the table. Bear in mind that raw egg is not recommended for infants, the elderly, pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems and people who don’t like raw eggs.
3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed, cut into 2” pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps sliced
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 tsp. chopped fresh oregano
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
12 oz. dried or 1 lb. fresh fettuccine
3 oz. Parmesan, grated (about ¾ cup), plus more for serving
4 large egg yolks
Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add asparagus, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Heat butter and remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook, tossing often, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add shallot and cook, tossing occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Toss in oregano, thyme, and asparagus. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid. Add pasta, ½ cup pasta cooking liquid, and 3 oz. Parmesan to skillet. Cook, tossing and adding more pasta cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta, about 2 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Divide pasta among plates and top each with yolks and more Parmesan. Stir in quickly while steaming hot.
Pork and Cabbage Potstickers
Makes 30 potstickers in 45 minutes
1⁄4 lb. tender leaves of Chinese cabbage or baby bok choy, roughly chopped
5 tbsp. peanut oil
1⁄2 lb. ground pork
1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled and minced
1⁄4 cup dark soy sauce
1 1⁄2 tbsp. Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1 tbsp. light soy sauce
1 tsp. sugar
3 tsp. sesame oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
30 (3-inch) round wonton wrappers
2 tbsp. black vinegar
In a large pot of lightly salted, boiling water, blanch the cabbage until tender, about 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and place cabbage in a bowl of ice water. Drain cabbage and pat dry. In a wok over medium-high, heat 3 tablespoons peanut oil. Add the pork and cook, breaking up any large pieces, until browned, about 3 minutes. Add the scallions and ginger and cook 1 to 2 minutes longer. Add 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce, the rice wine, light soy sauce, and sugar and cook 1 to 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and add reserved cabbage, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, salt, and pepper. Cool slightly. Working with one wrapper at a time, put a tablespoon of pork filling onto a wrapper, fold wrapper in half, and seal it with water, or follow instructions for forming dumplings into the traditional pleated crescent shape. Transfer each dumpling to reserved baking sheet; cover with a kitchen towel. In a bamboo steamer set over 1 inch of simmer water in a wok, arrange the dumplings in a single layer on each steamer shelf and steam until cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, wipe wok clean. Heat remaining peanut oil over medium and, working in batches, cook dumplings, turning once, until golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter. Whisk remaining 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce and sesame oil with the vinegar and serve with the potstickers.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.