Late Season Makes for Happy Meals
Spring bounty nonetheless

Late Season Makes for Happy Meals

Everyone here – everyone being most of the growers I buy from – says we’re three weeks behind the normal season.  This means that instead of jumping feet-first into the strawberries, those gorgeous harbingers of spring  are  trickling in.  And in Normandy, where the soil is still cold, they are  a pleasure yet to come.  

asparagus radishes
Spring bounty nonetheless

When it comes to asparagus we’ve got fat, white stalks by the bushel and the ton, direct from the Loire Valley.   Something about the cold soil and temperatures, the slow growth, the difficulty of harvesting in lashing rains has given it an extra burst of flavor. The French say that what suffers gains in flavor (that’s why a difficult weather year often gives fantastic wine), and I’d say that it is true.  In any case, we’ve been braising white asparagus with thyme, bay, and garlic and it is soooo elegant, nutty, and delicious. I’ve always been a fan of green asparagus over white, but this year may just change my mind.

As for much anticipated baby carrots, beets, purple onions, new garlic, new potatoes…sob! They are still gathering their resources from the soil.  There will be some, but not the abundance we’re used to. 

FLASH!!!  Train strikes are bedeviling us (but they’re not as bad as advertised) and there are still some spots available in classes.

Tarragon
Bursting tarragon, overnight
ramps
My own private l’ail des ours, bear garlic, ramps

This begins to sound like a sad tale but it’s not.  Because what happens when nature doesn’t fully cooperate is that  one gets creative.  So, for class last week I needed spring greens for a special salad.  I could have gotten regular lettuces from the market – the heads are mini, but they’re fresh and delicious. But that’s not what I needed.  So I simply went into my garden and foraged.  At first glance, there wasn’t much, then I looked closer and snipped baby arugula leaves (miniscule), wild miner’s lettuce ( Claytonia perfoliata), new tarragon shoots (which appeared overnight, as if by magic), new oregano and tiny mint leaves, chive shoots, the interior leaves from escarole, anise hyssop fronds,  and even bear garlic with blossoms (ramps).   In no time I had enough salad for six.  

As I stooped to snip and pinch I remembered what I’d learned when working on ITALIAN FARMHOUSE. I was in Friuli, specifically the province of Udine on the Slovenian border, talking with growers, grandmothers, and chefs there, then tasting the simplest of farm meals like a frittata made with bitter greens.  “My grandmother made this fritatta,” a woman told me “and she told me they started to make it because they were so poor and all they had to eat were the weeds in the garden and a few eggs.”  The fritatta was delectable, simple, pure, almost elegant.  I heard the same thing repeatedly and it taught me that privation leads to creativity.

spring veggies
Early spring offerings with peppered fromage blanc

Privation is a big word when speaking of this season in Paris or Louviers.  We are hardly deprived. We are simply “held up” in our cravings.  And that, too, leads to creativity. So, for those of you in a similar hold up, I offer you some lovely recipes for this season!  And I must add, that while the seasonal offerings are few and late, their flavor is double what it usually is, which lends credence to the adage “All good things are worth waiting for.”

Here’s what we’ve got: spinach, some green asparagus, tons of white asparagus, some strawberries, a few bunches of carrots, purple and white onions, even some skinny new shallots, baby heads of lettuce, miniature endives (they’re supposed to be gone by now), avocados (ok, they’re from Spain), mushrooms (they’re year round, but still…)…

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BACON WRAPPED GOAT CHEESE
This is a quintessential entrée in the French household. You can even purchase goat cheese already wrapped in bacon at the épicerie, grocery store. Typically, the cheeses are heated in the oven until they begin to melt and the bacon softens. I’ve stolen this idea and put the cheeses on the grill, after tucking grilled pepper underneath the bacon for some extra lusciousness. The bacon entirely covers the cheese and as it crisps on the grill, the cheese softens so that when you cut into it, OH MY. It’s molten and delicious.
BACON WRAPPED GOAT CHEESE
Course First Course
Cuisine French
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
  • 4 2-1/2 ounces (75g) eac firm yet young,,round goat cheeses, cut horizontally into three equal pieces
  • Piment d’Espelette
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper cut into 6 equal-sized pieces about 2 x 2 inches; 5 x 5– 1/2cm
  • Six 1 ounce (30g) slices slab bacon rind removed
  • 1 recipe for classic vinaigrette
  • 8 cups (210g) lettuce leaves rinsed, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
Course First Course
Cuisine French
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
  • 4 2-1/2 ounces (75g) eac firm yet young,,round goat cheeses, cut horizontally into three equal pieces
  • Piment d’Espelette
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper cut into 6 equal-sized pieces about 2 x 2 inches; 5 x 5– 1/2cm
  • Six 1 ounce (30g) slices slab bacon rind removed
  • 1 recipe for classic vinaigrette
  • 8 cups (210g) lettuce leaves rinsed, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
BACON WRAPPED GOAT CHEESE
Instructions
  1. Set the cheeses on a work surface, cut side up. Season each piece with piment d’Espelette or the paprikas, a bit of salt and some pepper. Lay a piece of pepper atop each cheese, flattening it out gently so it covers the surface of the cheese. If it hangs over a bit, that’s fine. Wrap each piece of cheese with a piece of bacon, so the bacon almost entirely encases the cheese, and keep it held closed with a trussing skewer.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, make the vinaigrette.
  3. Build a medium-sized fire in the barbecue, or light up the gas grill using all three burners. When the coals are red and dusted with ash, set the grill over them. When the grill is very hot, place the cheeses on it ,right over the coals, and grill until the bacon is golden, about 30 seconds. Turn and repeat. Cover the grill and continue cooking until the cheese begins to melt, an additional minute or so. Transfer the cheeses from the grill to a plate or platter, using a long, metal spatula.
  4. Thoroughly toss, toss, toss the salad until it is coated with the vinaigrette, and divide among four plates, setting it in the center of the plate. Transfer the hot cheeses to the salads, serving two pieces per person. Garnish with fleur de sel if desired, and serve immediately.
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IMPRESSIONIST VEGETABLES
ASTUCE: you may use any vegetable you like here, in any quantity you like, but small spring vegetables are best, and radishes, which keep their cheery color are essential. Sometimes I use baby turnips; if I can’t find spring onions, I use shallots; and occasionally I double the amount of asparagus. Also, if cilantro is hard to find, then use the finest extra-virgin olive oil all by itself. You’ll miss the vivid green color and the subtle flavor of the cilantro, but the dish will be delicious. Have fun! SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: tongs, grill pan, metal spatula, cheesecloth, sieve PREPARATION TIME: 25 minutes DIFFICULTY LEVEL: moderate
IMPRESSIONIST VEGETABLES
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
  • ¾ cup (185ml) full-fat yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Fleur de sel or coarse sea salt
  • 12 radishes with greens, rinsed, root removed
  • 12 small spring onions trimmed, with 2-inches stem (or scallions)
  • 8 stalks asparagus trimmed, peeled halfway up from the root end
  • 12 leaves spinach or ramps, or other tender green
  • teaspoon ½smoked paprika or more if needed
  • Cilantro oil – optional page xx
  • Fleur de sel
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
  • ¾ cup (185ml) full-fat yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Fleur de sel or coarse sea salt
  • 12 radishes with greens, rinsed, root removed
  • 12 small spring onions trimmed, with 2-inches stem (or scallions)
  • 8 stalks asparagus trimmed, peeled halfway up from the root end
  • 12 leaves spinach or ramps, or other tender green
  • teaspoon ½smoked paprika or more if needed
  • Cilantro oil – optional page xx
  • Fleur de sel
IMPRESSIONIST VEGETABLES
Instructions
  1. Place the yogurt in a sieve lined with cheesecloth one hour before you plan to serve this dish. Set the sieve over a bowl and reserve, at room temperature.
  2. Build a medium-sized fire in the grill. While the coals are heating, pour the olive oil into a large, flat dish. Add a generous amount of salt, mix it with your fingers, then place all the vegetables except the greens in the oil and turn them until they are lightly covered with oil.
  3. When the coals are red and dusted with ash, divide them in the barbecue, putting half the coals on either side. Set the grill over the coals. If you’ve got a perforated grill pan, place it on top of the grill, with half of it over the coals and the other half over the part of the barbecue without coals.
  4. When the grill is hot, place the radishes, spring onions, and asparagus over the coals and leave them there just long enough until they are golden all over, turning them once. Depending on the heat of your grill and the vegetables, this can take from 2 to 4 minutes. When they’re golden on both sides, move them to the side of the grill away from the coals, cover the grill, and cook them until they are tender, which will take from 2 to 4 minutes.
  5. While the vegetables are grilling, place the green leaves in the remaining oil and salt, rub them so they are lightly covered with oil.
  6. Remove the vegetables from the grill, and place the spinach leaves on the grill above the coals. They will brown quickly, so turn them until they wilt and are golden to almost black, which will take just seconds. Remove them from the grill.
  7. To serve, place a dollop of yogurt in the center of each of four plates. Sprinkle it liberally with smoked paprika. Arrange the vegetables around it. Drizzle some cilantro oil around the vegetables. Season with fleur de sel, and serve immediately.
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BRAISED WHITE OR GREEN ASPARAGUS
This recipe offers a whole new spring temptation! If you cannot find white asparagus, use thick green asparagus stalks. If you are using white asparagus, peel off the outer skin, beginning with the leaves just under the tip, where grit may be hiding. Hold each stalk up to the light so you can be sure you’ve removed all of the tough skin. You may need to peel each stalk twice to be sure. Then, trim off the end of the stem.
BRAISED WHITE OR GREEN ASPARAGUS
Course First Course
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 8-10 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
  • 2 pounds white or green asparagus trimmed, and peeled if using white
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) water
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon tarragon leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • Chive blossoms - optional garnish
  • Chive blossoms - optional garnish
Course First Course
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 8-10 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
  • 2 pounds white or green asparagus trimmed, and peeled if using white
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) water
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon tarragon leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • Chive blossoms - optional garnish
  • Chive blossoms - optional garnish
BRAISED WHITE OR GREEN ASPARAGUS
Instructions
  1. Sort the asparagus by thickness.
  2. Place the olive oil, the water, and the herbs in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat and add the thickest asparagus stalks first. Turn the asparagus so it is coated with the oil and water mixture and when the water and oil come to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook the asparagus until it begins to turn tender, about 4 to5 minutes. Add the thinner asparagus stalks and tips, toss and stir gently so they are coated with the water and oil, then continue to cook until all of the asparagus is tender, an additional 4 minutes.
  3. When the asparagus is nearly tender through, remove the cover and cook it, shaking the pan and stirring it, until any liquid in the pan evaporates.
  4. Just before the asparagus finishes cooking, mince the herbs.
  5. Remove the asparagus from the heat, add the herbs and season with salt and pepper then gently turn the asparagus so it is coated with the herbs and seasonings. Garnish with the chive blossoms and serve immediately.
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CILANTRO OIL
Here, the lemony, grassiness of cilantro is softened by being blanched, then blended with top-quality olive oil. Its flavor emerges gently but its color is a blast of green that brightens every dish it touches. When a new ingredient comes to France, as cilantro did from North Africa, the French chef coopts it with their special artfulness, as is the case here. I predict you’ll make this oil often. Astuce: This oil is the very best the day it is made, though you can stretch it a day or two if you keep it refrigerated.
Course Basic recipe
Servings
Ingredients
  • 4 cups cilantro leaves gently packed
  • 1 cup (250ml) extra-virgin olive oil
Course Basic recipe
Servings
Ingredients
  • 4 cups cilantro leaves gently packed
  • 1 cup (250ml) extra-virgin olive oil
Instructions
  1. To make the cilantro oil, first prepare a medium-sized bowl of ice water. Cover a cooling rack with a thick, cotton or linen towel.
  2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the cilantro, stir gently, then the minute the water returns to the boil transfer the cilantro to the ice water, to cool. As soon as the cilantro leaves are chilled, transfer them to the prepared cooling rack to drain for about 5 minutes. Then, wrap them in the towel and twist it as tightly as you can, to remove any excess water from the cilantro. The cilantro will feel almost dry when you are finished.
  3. Place the leaves in the work bowl of a food processor fit with the steel blade. Add 1/4 cup (60ml) of the olive oil and process to make a thick paste. With the processor running, add the remaining oil. Transfer the oil to a container and reserve, covered, at room temperature. The oil keeps its intense flavor for a day or two, refrigerated.
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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Jana Zanetto

    Udine is next to Slovenia, not Slovakia. Thanks for the recipes!

    1. Susan

      Jana,

      Oh my, that is a BIG mistake on my part and as I looked at Slovenia, I wrote Slovakia. Pardon me, thank you for pointing out the error, and I hope you’ll enjoy the recipes…!

  2. Cathy

    Bacon wrapped cheese with roasted bell peppers… you could never go wrong with that! And yet, I have never made it. Time to fire up the grill on Sunday and make this tasty salad.

    1. Susan

      Cathy – you will like it, so will your friends. I promise. And it’s something different.

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