Recipes by Sylvie Rowand of Laughing Duck Gardens and Cookery (www.laughingduckgardens.com)
-Green Salad with Duck Fat-Fried Potato and Eggs
-Green Salad with Baked Goat Cheese
-Sautéed Mushrooms with Virginia Ham
-Butternut Squash Yogurt Parfait
-Berry Jammy Semifreddo
-Ricotta & Berry Jam Tart
March and April seem worlds apart: March still firmly in winter, April teasing of spring…today mildly sunny, tomorrow blustery. No matter, we hunger for fresh asparagus and perfumed strawberries. Yes, in warmer years asparagus send a few shoots up in early April (or a farmer who cleverly uses cold frames may bring some spears to market), but their season really starts in late April for us…and we have to wait until late May for strawberries.
So what’s a local cook to do? We continue to rely on the hardy greens, roots, and storage crops that got us through winter. For local fruit we still depend on apples picked last fall, canned fruit, jams, frozen berries—or winter squash (botanically speaking, a fruit after all).
Yet tender delicate spring salads are growing exuberantly again. Endlessly varied greens can become the foundation of the meal. Spinach, mustard, or escarole are robust enough to eat with bacon, potatoes, and eggs still sizzling from the skillet, but baby lettuce should be dressed simply with a little oil and vinegar and maybe a few slivers of good cheese. Make a green salad without a single lettuce leaf: spinach, sorrel, escarole, arugula, mache, watercress, baby beet leaves, and mustard all bring their unique fl avor and beauty to the plate.
The Mid-Atlantic produces mushrooms, either cultivated (from the ubiquitous white mushroom to the shiitake and the oyster) or wild. For a few weeks starting in April the beloved morel is available to those who know where to look. And of course, spring is time to celebrate the magical egg, a symbol of birth and fertility so ancient that its origins are lost in prehistoric times—perfect, since spurred by the lengthening days hens raised without artifi cial light are laying well again!
When April finally explodes in bright yellows, soft pinks, lurid magentas, and purple-blues, I yearn for freshness and color on my plate too. And I want it fast because I’ve got other things to do. These seasonal recipes take advantage of eggs, dairy, greens, jams, winter squash, and mushrooms.
Green Salad With Duck Fat- Fried Potato And Eggs
PER PERSON FOR MAIN COURSE OR 2 PEOPLE AS APPETIZER
mixed salad greens (quantity depends on your appetite; I generally use 2 handfuls for a main course per person)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 to 2 tablespoons duck or goose fat (more as needed)
one medium, already cooked, sliced potato (Yukon Gold or fingerlings as well as true new potatoes are all good choices)
¼ garlic clove (green germ removed if any), very finely minced.
2 eggs, preferably from pastured hens
1 tablespoon olive oil
-Wash and dry greens thoroughly. Arrange them on a dinner plate.
-Whisk together vinegar and water in a small bowl and set aside.
-In a thick-bottom frying pan (preferably cast-iron—do not use non-stick as it will not crisp the potatoes properly), melt the duck fat over medium-high heat. Add the sliced potatoes in a single layer and fry until golden brown, carefully flipping once or twice. About 30 seconds before removing the potatoes from the pan, sprinkle them with garlic and carefully stir without breaking the potato slices. Transfer the potatoes and garlic to the plate on top of the salad, forming a pleasing pattern. Repeat as needed if the potatoes don’t fit in the frying pan in one single layer.
-Add a little more fat to the pan if needed and cook the eggs sunny-side up. Carefully transfer the eggs to the salad plate.
-Turn the heat off. Pour the vinegar/water mixture into the pan (watch out, it will steam) and scrape all the attached bits at the bottom of the pan with a wooden or metal spatula. Reduce slightly (there should be enough residual heat for that). Drizzle on top of the eggs.
-Drizzle each plate with olive oil and serve with fresh crusty bread to mop the yolks and the dressing. A light red wine or dry rosé won’t hurt either!
Green Salad with Baked Goat’s Cheese
SERVES 2 AS LIGHT MAIN COURSE, 4 AS APPETIZER
1 4-oz log of fresh goat cheese
peppercorn, freshly ground
¼ teaspoon thyme leaves
Olive oil to marinate
¼ cup parsley leaves, chopped
salad greens mix, washed and dried
2 slices of rustic bread, from a large boule-type loaf, for making breadcrumbs
4 slices of baguette or one large rustic loaf slice, cut in 4 pieces slightly larger than the goat cheese rounds
1 tablespoon olive oil
For the vinaigrette dressing:
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (or walnut, pecan or grape seed oil)
-Slice goat cheese into four even rounds. Dust the rounds with black pepper and sprinkle with thyme. Cover with oil and marinate at least two hours up to two days (if more than two hours, refrigerate and remove from the fridge an hour before baking to ensure the oil liquefies again).
-Preheat t he oven to 375F. While preheating, toast the bread slices on a baking sheet slipped into the oven. Remove the small ones as soon as dried out (these are the croutes) but bake the larger ones until pale golden. Let cool for a few minutes.
-Drizzle olive oil over the croutes (leave them on the baking sheet).
-Pulse the other slices in food processor until big crumbs form. Add parsley and pulse again until you have fi ne crumbs. Transfer to a small bowl. Gently lift the goat cheese rounds from the oil (reserve for the dressing). If you did not marinate the goat cheese, brush the rounds with olive oil. Gently press each round into the parsley/crumb mixture until completely coated. Arrange each round on a top of a croute.
-Bake for 7 to 10 minutes until the croute edges are brown.
-Meanwhile, in a large salad bowl, whisk vinegar and oil until well blended. Toss with the greens then distribute the salad evenly among the plates. Top each with the hot goat cheese croutes as they come out of the oven.
YIELDS 24 MORSELS (USING ¼ CUP MUFFIN PAN)
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup finely chopped filling such as ham & spinach or sautéed mushrooms & pork roast or cheese!
5 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk (or half & half, or a combination)
salt & pepper to taste
½ cup grated flavorful hard or semi-hard cheese
-Preheat oven to 400F.
-Butter two 12-mini muffin pans. Drop 2 teaspoons of filling in each mini-muffin.
-Put flour, salt and pepper in a medium-sized bowl with a well in the middle. Slowly pour in the milk, constantly whisking by hand to ensure a lump-free batter. Add the eggs, one at time, whisking well after each one to ensure they are well incorporated. If you prepare the batter in advance, whisk briskly again just before pouring to incorporate the flour which otherwise settles at the bottom of the bowl.
-Fill the muffin tins with batter almost to the top. Top with the hard cheese (about 1 teaspoon each). Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until partially brown on top and puffy. Don’t be disappointed when they deflate shortly after you take them out. It’s not you. They will deflate… but they’ll still be tasty.
Sautéed Mushrooms with Virginia Ham
SERVES 4 TO 6
1 pound mushrooms, such as oyster, shiitake, morels, or even white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (morels should be halved or quartered lengthwise)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
¾ cup dry white wine
¾ cup heavy cream
3 oz shaved Virginia ham
¼ cup packed parsley leaves, very finely minced
-Heat up a deep cast-iron skillet until very hot. Add olive oil and butter. As soon as butter foams, add to mushrooms in one generous single layer. Do not overcrowd: work in batches if necessary (use more oil/butter if necessary). Fry until the mushrooms start to give up their liquid, shrivel and brown (brown shiitake, white, or oyster mushrooms will take longer than the delicate morels—don’t let the morel shrivel!). Add the wine, scrape the pan to remove stuck bits, add the cream and the ham. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer 20 to 30 minutes, stirring once in a while. Sprinkle parsley over the mix 5 minutes before
-Serve over polenta, barley, pasta or other starch to absorb the cream sauce—or with lots of bread.
Butternut Squash Yogurt Parfait
1 ½ cups fresh butternut squash purée*
1 tablespoon very finely chopped candied ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons mild honey (or more to taste)
1 ½ cups plain yogurt
½ cup granola
-Whisk the butternut purée with ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, and honey until well mixed (or use the food processor). Warm the honey slightly first if it is too hard to whisk in.
-Use four attractive glasses. In each glass layer butternut purée and yogurt. Repeat. Top with granola.
* To make fresh butternut squash purée: halve and cut the squash in large chunks. Steam for about 15 to 20 minutes (or bake in an oiled dish at 400F about 20 to 30 minutes) until tender. Let cool until you can comfortably handle, then scoop out and discard the seeds. Scoop out the flesh, discarding the skin, and process in food processor until smooth. Set one cup aside for the recipe above and reserve the rest for another use such as soup or gratin. The puree freezes well for longer storage.
Berry Jammy Semifreddo
SERVES 6 TO 8
2 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1 cup berry jam
-Whip the cream using a hand-held mixer. Start the mixer on low and increase the speed until stiff peaks form—about 4 to 5 minutes. Do not overbeat.
-Whisk the jam in a separate bowl. Carefully fold the whipped cream into the jam until blended. Pour into a freezer-proof container and freeze for at least 6 hours or overnight.
-You can scoop out the semifreddo and serve it just like ice-cream, although it is naturally softer than ice-cream. Sandwich it between two sugar or chocolate cookies or two tuiles for a hand-held frozen dessert. You may also freeze it in a loaf pan (line the pan with freezer paper first), invert and unmold it, then slice it like a cake.
Ricotta & Berry Jam Tart
One baked and cooled pastry shell *
Your favorite berry jam (Amount will depend on your tart size)
-Preheat oven to 375F.
-Spread a layer of ricotta cheese evenly in the tart shell, followed by a layer of jam (about the same amount as the ricotta). Bake 20 to 30 minutes for small tarts, 35- 45 minutes for large ones—until the jam bubbles.
-Let cool. Enjoy.
For a 9-inch tart:
½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick) — not too cold, but not at room temperature
1 cup flour plus some for dusting
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 to 3 tablespoons ice water
For 11-inch tart, increase the proportion to ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons butter and to 1 ¼ cup plus one heaping tablespoon for the flour. Add an additional teaspoon of sugar.
-Cut butter into small pieces.
-In a bowl mix flour, salt and sugar. Add butter and work it into the flour, rubbing it between your fingers until the mixture looks like cornmeal and the dough is starting to hold together. Add the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and work it into the mixture just until the pastry is blended and sticks together when you press it. You may not need to use all the water. I usually need just 2 tablespoons.
-Shape the dough into a ball. Place into a clean bowl and cover with a wet-and-wrung clean kitchen towel. Set aside for 1 hour (up to 2) so the dough has a chance to absorb moisture.
-Lay a sheet of parchment paper on the counter and dust with flour. Top with dough. Roughly shape the dough in your tart pan shape (i.e. flatten into a disk if using a round pan; shape into a log and flatten if using a rectangular one; divide if making tartlettes.) Dust the dough with flour. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper. Roll with rolling pin until slightly bigger than your pan plus the depth of its sides. Remove the top layer of parchment paper. Lift the dough and bottom parchment paper and carefully flip so that the parchment paper is in on top. Lower the dough into the tart pan and press gently through the paper to fit the pan. Remove paper and crimp and trim the dough as needed.
-Freeze for 30 minutes or up to overnight.
-Prick the bottom all over with a fork.
-Bake in preheated 375F oven for 20 to 30 minutes until the shell is set and lightly colored.
-Let cool completely before putting filling in.
(Note: You can freeze the pastry shells at this point for later use; there is no need to thaw before you add the filling and bake).