If you are lucky enough to have planted some cool-weather vegetables during the warm February days or between the March snows and freezes, you’re probably seeing the first action in your garden right about now. And if you had the presence of mind to start an asparagus bed a few years ago, now is the time that foresight is paying off. If you have access to a farmer’s market that is year-round or gets started in the early spring, things are starting to be a little greener there after months of root vegetables and not much else.
Failing that, the dandelions blooming in your yard are edible, assuming you’re not too gung-ho with the pesticides and weed killers on your lawn, and face it, if you’ve got a yard full of dandelions, you’re probably not. Many parts of the dandelion plant are edible, but the recipe for rhubarb dandelion pie below uses only the flowers. Cut the flowers off close to the head, taking as little stem as possible. The stems are bitter, like the greens. Bitter dandelion greens are indeed useful in the kitchen, but not in a pie.
Morels are out there for the finding, and if you’re not that adventurous, there’s always the grocery store.
But whatever resources you have, spring is definitely calling. If you have no access to any spring vegetables in season and still want to celebrate the season, pesto is your friend. Whether you had the presence of mind to freeze some last summer or are relegated to buying some at the store, pesto has the capability to make anything you put it in green and summery. It’s like lawn clippings in that way, if lawn clippings were edible and extremely delicious.
Pair it with some peas (frozen, if there are no fresh English peas near you) and a few zucchini, which are definitely not in season yet, and you can make a fresh, cheese-y baked pasta that leaves no doubt that spring is here.
Baked Shells, Pesto and Greens
1 pound box medium shells
3 small zucchini, shredded
2 pounds frozen peas
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1 cup pesto
1 cup ricotta
1/2 tsp. salt
In a 4-quart sauce pot, bring salted water to boiling. Add pasta, cover, bring back to boiling. Cook for half of time recommended on box. Stir zucchini into pasta pot, wait for a minute or two and then drain.. Combine pasta mixture with peas, mozzarella, pesto, ricotta, and salt. Transfer to a 4-quart baking dish. Cover with foil; bake at 425°F for 30 minutes or until pasta is tender.
Asparagus Lemon Risotto
1 -1/2 cup risotto rice (Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano)
1 bunch asparagus (sliced to skinny discs)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. salted butter
1 celery stick, finely chopped
1 -1/2 qt. vegetable stock (you might not need it all)
2/3 cup dry white wine
1 whole lemon (zest and juice)
salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese shavings to serve
In a pan (cast iron is useful in this recipe) on a medium heat, fry onions and celery in butter and oil until softened (about 15 min). Add rice, coat well in oils and juices and let it toast in the pan for a few minutes before adding wine. Let the wine evaporate almost completely – you’re after the perfume rather than the acidity at this stage. Lower the heat and start adding the stock ladle by ladle allowing rice to absorb it slowly. Stir your risotto often to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan and to help the starch to release. When you have used ⅔ of the stock add asparagus and pour most of the remaining stock in. Turn the heat down and let it cook until the asparagus and rice are almost cooked through. Stir in lemon juice and zest and use the remaining stock to loosen up the risotto consistency if you feel like it needs it. You are looking for creamy, but not runny texture. Remember that even when you take the pan off the stove the rice will continue to absorb the moisture, so sprinkle your parmesan over and serve immediately.
Rhubarb Dandelion Pie
This recipe makes one 9″ pie.
1 unbaked 9″ pie crust (Buy it or make it)
3 cups rhubarb, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup dandelion flowers
1 -1/2 cups unrefined or cane sugar
1 -1/2 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp. flour
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened, at room temperature
Heat the oven to 400°F. Chop the rhubarb stalks into bite-size pieces and place them in a mixing bowl. Harvest about 1/2 cup of fresh dandelion flower heads and rinse them off to get rid of any bugs and dirt. Cut the flower petals from the green base and stem. If there is a tiny bit of green with the petals that is fine, you just don’t want too much since it will make it bitter. Mix the dandelion flower petals in with the rhubarb. Beat the two eggs. Stir in the vanilla, sugar and flour. Pour this over the rhubarb/dandelion mixture and stir. Pour the filling into the pie crust. With a fork or pastry blender, mash the butter, flour and brown sugar to create a crumbly mixture. Sprinkle this mixture onto the top of the pie. Bake for 10 minutes at 400°F. Then reduce the heat to 350°F. and bake for another 35-40 minutes. When done, the crust will be a golden brown and the rhubarb will be soft when stuck with a fork. Remove from the oven, and let it sit for a few minutes to cool. Slice and serve plain or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Lasagna with Asparagus, Leeks, and Morels
2 tbsp. (¼ stick) butter, divided
2 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1 pound thick asparagus spears, trimmed, cut on diagonal into 1-inch pieces
4 ounces fresh morel mushrooms, rinsed, coarsely chopped, or 5 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, coarsely chopped
2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
3-½ cups low-salt chicken broth
1-½ cups heavy whipping cream
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp. all purpose flour
¾ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 9-ounce package no-cook lasagna noodles (12 noodles)
1-¼ cups finely grated parmesan cheese, divided
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks; cook until wilted, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in same skillet. Add asparagus, mushrooms, and thyme. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; sauté until asparagus is crisp-tender, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Add to bowl with leeks and toss to distribute evenly. Add broth, cream, and bay leaf to same skillet and boil over high heat until slightly thickened, about 6 minutes. Sprinkle flour over and whisk to blend. Boil until sauce thickens, about 1 minute, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in nutmeg; discard bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Vegetables and sauce can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.) Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat four 2-cup shallow oval or round baking dishes with nonstick spray. Break off corners of noodles to fit flatly into dishes. Spoon ¼ cup sauce into each dish. Place 1 noodle atop sauce. Scatter ¼ cup vegetable mixture over, spreading in even layer. Drizzle 2 tablespoons sauce over. Sprinkle rounded tablespoonful cheese over each. Repeat layering 2 more times with noodles, vegetables, sauce, and cheese. Drizzle remaining sauce over lasagnas. Cover each dish tightly with foil. Place on rimmed baking sheet and bake until noodles are tender, about 40 minutes. Uncover and bake until sauce is bubbling and cheese begins to brown, about 6 minutes. Let stand at room temperature 5 minutes before serving.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.