April 11, 2013

Sweet -- Peas and Radishes!

Photo by Mette Nielsen

Sweet Pea and Radish Salad

Sweet Pea, that's what my dad called me, a term of endearment or sometimes a chide. No wonder, sweet peas are the darlings of spring vegetables, and how frustrating it is to wait for the local varieties to come in. Plant them now (if you haven't already), they begin to take root even through the snow and cold and they grow quickly and delicately, climbing up towards the sun. This simple salad of crisp, crunchy radishes and crisp peas comes together in a snap. 

Sweet Pea and Radish Salad
Serves 2 to 4

Save the extra dressing for basting grilled chicken or fish. It will keep in a jar for a week.

1 tablespoon soy sauce, or to taste
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup light sesame oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed
1 cup sliced radishes

In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, ginger and honey, then slowly whisk in the light and dark sesame oil.

Bring a medium pot of water to a rapid boil. Blanch the peas until they turn brilliant green, about 30 seconds, then drain and run under very cold water. Lightly pat dry with a clean towel.

Arrange the peas and the radishes on a large serving plate and drizzle the dressing overall. Serve cold or at room temperature.

April 2, 2013

Oh Asparagus! A Revelation!

photo by Mette Nielsen


All my life, I've loved asparagus, first vegetable of the year! As a kid, we'd take the big clippers to cut the bright stems in my grandmother's garden, leaving some to burst into ferns that helped insure crops for future years. In a roiling kettle, they'd turn bright green, we'd drain and serve on a white linen napkin with a cruet of melted butter to dip on the side. My grandmother, devoted to Emily Post, allowed us to eat the stalks with our fingers. When grilling asparagus came into fashion, I gave it a go, but found it charred the spears to be tasteless; oven roasting turned them limp and dry. Then I discovered pan roasting. It's easy, it's fool-proof, it's quick.

Seared off in butter or oil to keep them from sticking then covered to steam in their own juices, their flavors concentrate and caramelize. Pan roasted asparagus are meatier, more distinct versions of themselves. Gussied up with pancetta, Parmesan cheese and a squeeze of lemon, they are a pan-perfect spring meal. Good crusty bread is always nice.

Pan Roasted Asparagus with Pancetta and Parmesan
Serves 2 to 4

1 tablespoon olive oil or unsalted butter
2 slices pancetta or bacon, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
1 pound asparagus, tough ends broken off
1/2 lemon
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese, or more to taste

Set a large skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil or butter, pancetta and shallot. Cook until the pancetta has rendered most of its fat and is slightly crisp, about 3 minutes. Remove and set aside. Add the asparagus and toss to coat with the pan drippings. Cover, lower the heat slightly, and cook until the spears are tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the lid and continue cooking until the asparagus are slightly browned. Squeeze the lemon over the asparagus, season with salt and pepper, then top with the Parmesan and sprinkle the pancetta or bacon over all. Serve hot.