Enjoy a spring fling on a plate

By on April 17, 2012

Welcome to spring and a few of my recipes to showcase the season of rebirth.

When I think spring produce, the first things that come to mind are asparagus, rhubarb, and strawberries. I anticipate the first shoots of asparagus breaking through the soil in my garden and growing several inches a day.

If you don’t have the luxury of growing your own asparagus and being able to pick it at the peak of its flavor, then look for bright green, firm stalks and tightly closed tips with no flowering. I prefer the thinner stalks. They’re more tender. Thick asparagus stems should be peeled since they’re usually tough and stringy.

To prepare the asparagus, simply snap off the woody part of the stem. Don’t worry. The asparagus knows where to snap.

Wrapped Asparagus Spears In Puff Pastry
Thinly sliced maple ham
Coarse grain Dijon mustard
Puff pastry sheets

Prepare the asparagus by snapping off the ends. Drop into boiling water for one minute, then immediately plunge the asparagus into ice water to stop the cooking and set the pretty green color. Drain the asparagus. Wrap in thinly sliced maple ham. Lightly brush the pastry sheets with the Dijon mustard and wrap the asparagus spears in the pastry leaving the tips exposed. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, or until puffy and golden brown.

Couscous With Asparagus
6 asparagus spears
1 small zucchini
2 handfuls spinach leaves
¼ cup couscous
½ cup vegetable broth
Parmesan cheese, grated
Lemon zest
Freshly ground salt and pepper to taste.

Chop the asparagus, zucchini, and spinach. Melt a few tablespoons of unsalted butter over medium high heat and add in the zucchini, asparagus, and spinach. Sauté, stirring, about one minute. Add in the couscous and stir about a minute. Add in the vegetable broth, bring to a boil, cover, and turn off heat. Let sit for five minutes. Uncover and fluff. Taste test and add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese and parsley over top. Give it a nice dusting of lemon zest and you have spring on a plate.

One of my favorite meals is quiche and for spring, I’m making an asparagus quiche. I’m going to give you a pie dough recipe that’s one of my favorites. This dough makes enough for three different pies and don’t worry; I’ll be offering you ways to use up the dough. If you don’t want to make your own dough, then I’d recommend the Pillsbury’s dough that you unroll. Don’t buy the frozen dough in the tins. The pie isn’t deep enough and the dough has a tendency to crack.

Pie or Galette Dough
(A galette is a rustic, free-form pie.)
3 sticks chilled, unsalted butter, diced
3 cups flour
4 TB cold water mixed with 1 egg
Extra flour for rolling

Using a pastry blender, work the diced butter into the flour until you get crumbs ranging in size from coarse meal to small peas. You don’t want a homogeneous mix. The smaller pieces make for a tender dough. The larger pieces make for a flaky dough. Mix in the water and egg, distributing evenly. The dough should be moist enough to stick together when pressed. If not, add more cold water, a teaspoon at a time. Gather the dough into a soft, malleable ball. Divide into thirds, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate. When you’re ready to use the dough, allow it to rest until it comes to room temperature. Roll the dough out about 1/8-inch thin on a lightly floured board. Add additional flour as needed and flip the dough. You want to roll on both sides. When you have the desired thinness, roll dough over rolling pin and unroll over a deep pie dish.

Asparagus Quiche
1 recipe pie dough
4 eggs + 1 yolk, room temperature
1 cup skim milk
1 cup heavy cream
(I use the skim and cream mixture because I always have it on hand. You could use whole milk, if desired.)
8 ounces Swiss cheese, diced
4 ounces Brie, in pieces
6 strips bacon, crisply fried and crumbled
8 asparagus spears
Grated cheddar and Parmesan cheeses for topping.
Freshly ground salt and pepper.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat eggs and yolk. I give mine 2 grinds of salt and 6 grinds of pepper. Season to your tastes. Heat milk and cream until simmer. Remove from heat. Whisk slightly cooled milk into eggs. This helps the quiche to cook quicker. Scatter bacon on bottom of pie, add pieces of Swiss and Brie, and arrange asparagus spears. Pour custard into pie and top with grated cheddar and Parmesan cheeses. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes. Let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing so the custard has time to set.

Now, you’ll be glad you have extra dough on hand. I have a lovely dessert for you combining rhubarb, orange, and ginger.

Rhubarb Galette
1 recipe pie crust
3 cups rhubarb (about 4 stalks), cut into ¼ inch slices
¾ cup sugar
2 TB flour
2 TB minced crystallized ginger
1 tsp vanilla
1 heaping TB butter
Turbinado sugar

Combine rhubarb, sugar, flour, zest, and vanilla. Allow to macerate about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly flour your surface and roll out the pie dough to about 1/8-inch thin. Cut the pastry in a 12-inch diameter round. Place on lightly buttered baking sheet. Spoon drained rhubarb mixture in the center of the pie dough round, leaving a 2-inch border. Lift and drape the edges of the pie dough up and over, leaving a circle of filling visible. Top the filling with the butter. Lightly brush the dough with water and sprinkle turbinado sugar over the dough. Bake in a 375 degree oven about 45 minutes. The crust should be slightly browned and the filling bubbly.

The beauty of the galette is that it leaves itself open to interpretation. You can use whatever fruits are in season for a sweet galette, or you can use that remaining pie dough to make a savory galette, perhaps using pizza ingredients. The delicious and delectable possibilities are endless.

The last offering in my Spring Fling is another dessert – a wicked layered concoction with a strawberry and rhubarb filling, whipped cream, Crème Anglaise, and ladyfingers. A Crème Anglaise is a classic dessert sauce nice to have in one’s repertoire. It’s a silky, rich stovetop-cooked pourable custard packed with vanilla.

Strawberry and Rhubarb Parfaits
2 cups sliced strawberries
2 cups sliced rhubarb (1/4 inch)
⅔ cup sugar
Juice of 2 oranges
Cornstarch slurry (2 TB cornstarch dissolved in 2 TB cold water)
Whipped cream
Crème Anglaise
Sliced strawberries for garnish
Sherry or Amaretto, if desired

Mix strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, orange juice, and cornstarch slurry
and cook over medium low heat for about 10 minutes. Let cool.

Crème Anglaise
1 cup skim milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
½ cup sugar
4 egg yolks

Scrape the vanilla seeds into the milk and add in the bean for extra flavor. Cook over moderately low heat until bubbles form around the sides – about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and discard the bean. Beat the yolks, then gradually beat in the sugar until light and fluffy. Whisking constantly, add half of the hot milk mixture to the eggs in a thin stream. Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce has thickened slightly – about 4 minutes. Watch carefully. You do not want curds or scrambled eggs. Refrigerate until chilled.

For assembly, layer the strawberry rhubarb mixture, whipped cream, ladyfingers, and Crème Anglaise in parfait glasses. I made homemade ladyfingers, but one could also use store-bought ladyfingers, pound cake, or angel food cake. If you’re of the persuasion, a sprinkling of sherry or amaretto liqueur over the cakes takes this to a celestial level.

Happy Spring, everyone, and be sure to visit with Rosie at Kitchens Are Monkey Business.




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