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Simply Spring

March 28, 2010

A lot of spring vegetables (and fruits) don’t need much dressing up. Raw, steamed, or lightly roasted, most of them are perfect just as they are!

Garlic, lemon, olive oil, mustard, vinegars, fresh herbs, salt, butter, and for fruit, heavy cream, sugar, balsamic vinegar – these are the only condiments you should need to dress fresh spring produce. I like to avoid “winter” flavors that are heavier, like heavy creamed sauces, bacon, smoked paprika, caramelized onions, apples, bleu cheeses, fried foods, root vegetables, etc.

Asparagus and broccoli are heavenly roasted with a little olive oil in the oven. Broccoli is great with garlic, red pepper flakes, or just lots and lots of black pepper.

Asparagus and green beans are great lightly steamed and then tossed with a mustard vinaigrette.

Fresh or frozen baby peas, if sweet enough, are wonderful mashed and served with salmon (like I had in Norway) or pork loin. Otherwise toss them into light spring soups or lightly dressed pasta.

Strawberries are perfect cleaned and cut then tossed in a little sugar. Let them marinate in the fridge for a few hours and the sugar will bring out the juices and flavor. Use to top ice cream or plain cakes or serve as a dessert themselves, topped with a few tablespoons of heavy cream. If you want to get extra fancy, drizzle a little balsamic vinegar and/or black pepper over the strawberries.

A little sesame oil goes a long way on soba noodles tossed with asparagus, snap peas, green beans, sliced green onions, and/or celery and topped with lightly salted peanuts and mandarin oranges.

Orangette has a killer French carrot salad I’ve been wanting to try for ages.

Have I mentioned how delicious fresh (not from a bag!) radishes with salted butter are? I know I have, but I feel it bears reminding. 🙂

Roasted chicken, hot or cold, is simple enough to serve with just about any kind of vegetable.

Gooseberry preserves, which I’ve only ever seen at IKEA, are deliciously tart, sweet, and clean. Gooseberries are sometimes called greengages in the UK and though they are rare to find fresh stateside unless you have your own bush, they are quite lovely. Interestingly enough, gooseberry bushes were nearly eradicated by the CCC during the Great Depression because they were thought to carry pine rust. Which they did, but so, unfortunately, did dozens of other plants in the forest.

Waxy potatoes like thin-skinned reds are good substitutes for new or fingerling potatoes. If you use waxy reds, cut them into small chunks for things like warm potato salad. Here are two versions:

Creamy Tangy Potato Salad:

red potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled, any bad parts cut out and cut into eights or sixteenths, depending on size
1/2 a medium white onion, cut in half again and sliced paper thin
mayonnaise (I use Hellmann’s canola mayo)
white vinegar
dill weed – dry or fresh

Boil potatoes until easily pierced with a fork, but not fall-apart soft. Place onions in large bowl. Drain potatoes and pour on top of onions. Stir. Add mayonnaise just to coat. Add dill (several tablespoons) until thoroughly incorporated. Add vinegar by the tablespoon until mayo is tangy enough. Serve warm or chill and serve cold.

Potato Vinaigrette Salad:

red potatoes, scrubbed and cleaned, but not peeled, cut into quarters or eighths, depending on size.
green beans (optional)
roma tomatoes, quartered lengthwise (optional)
3-2-1 vinaigrette

Boil potatoes until easily pierced with fork, but not fall-apart soft. While potatoes are cooking, whisk together vinaigrette. For last few minutes of boiling, add green beans if using. Drain potatoes and green beans, add tomatoes (if using) and toss with vinaigrette. Serve warm or cold.

These salads are both good served with roasted meats, sandwiches, or on their own.

I also love cucumbers in spring. I personally prefer English cucumbers (also called seedless or burpless) as they are thinner-skinned, crisper, and then skin is less bitter than regular cukes. They are delicious sliced and dipped in homemade ranch dressing, but there are also a few recipes I love for them.

Open-Faced Party Sandwiches with Cucumber and Summer Sausage:

1 loaf party rye bread (or small, thinly sliced squares of other hearty, dense bread)
cream cheese (you can use plain or herbed if you want)
sliced English cucumber
sprigs of fresh dill
sliced summer sausage (this is a kind of tangy tender salami that I’m discovering is hard to find outside of the Midwest! If it’s not refrigerated, it’s not real summer sausage)

Spread individual pieces of party rye with cream cheese, top with salami, then cucumber, then a sprig of dill. Repeat until you run out of ingredients. Makes a large platter of very pretty, bite-sized open-faced sandwiches for a party or light luncheon.

My mom came up with that one. Cucumbers and dill are very Danish, as are open-faced sandwiches. I actually used the recipe for a culinary history project in undergrad. They are amazingly delicious. The fresh dill is important. Dried will not have the same flavor.

I’ve never actually made this next salad, but my mom would make it a lot in the summer. This recipe is an approximation.

Scandinavian Cucumber Dill Salad:

1 English cucumber thinly sliced, skin-on
1 cup sour cream
chopped fresh dill
white wine vinegar
black pepper

Layer cucumber slices with salt and let sit for an hour or two. Pour off liquid then toss with sour cream and dill. Add vinegar and pepper to taste. Add more salt if necessary. Serve cold.

Okay, I think that’s enough spring recipes for today! Off to make the french carrot salad, banana bread, and then creamy lemon pasta with asparagus and pesto flatbread (a.k.a. pizza) for dinner. If I get really ambitious, I’ll tackle the spicy baked greens and hull those strawberries I bought a few days ago.

Happy spring and happy eating!

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