Spring is young, fresh, vibrant, beautiful and entirely delightful. As should be a dinner at this time of year. That means making the most of the early harvest for foods that are fresh, light, bright in flavor and served up pretty as a picture. Farm markets, garden centers and specialty groceries are the best places to find these foods of the first harvest. The fresh herbs used here all came from pots purchased at a garden center, the other fresh foods from a specialty grocery. To make things pretty with a touch of humor, garnishes suggested signs of spring. Billa, Michele and I have been trading dinner parties for many years. In planning and carrying out the dishes for our books, Dazzling Dinners and The Dish on Dazzling Dinners, we often worked together to design and carry out the dinners. Recently, however, our dinners have been solo affairs. With this dinner we decided to share a bit, in part because it’s more fun and, in part, to decrease work. The host sets the theme and asks each of the others to contribute one dish. I asked Michele to make a side for a chicken main dish and Billa to make a dessert.
Appetizers Deviled Eggs with Dill, Garnish - Red Pepper Flower Hummus with Pita Chips Olive Tapenade on Baguette, Garnish - a Mozzarella Cheese Butterfly Soup Young Allium, Garnish - Creamy Abstract Flower Main Forty Garlic Chicken Michele’s Fabulous Farro Risotto With Sauteed Mushrooms and Fennel Sugar Snap Peas Salad Arugula, Watercress and Radishes, Herb Vinaigrette, Garnish - Radish Mouse Desserts Billa’s Stupendous Strawberry Cake Basil Panna Cotta
NOTES AND RECIPES
Mix the yolks of hard-boiled eggs with a 1:1 mixture of mayo and sour cream, adding finely chopped dill, salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with a small red pepper flower as shown in the photo. Or make each a bee - see the April 25th, 2021 blog post “The Very Versatile Deviled Eggs.” Place strips of black olives, mushrooms or purple pepper for the dark stripes on a bee’s body. Use chives or other thin strip to make antennas.
Try making your own hummus using tahini, fresh lemon, chick peas (canned or dried), young garlic and olive oil. Of course, commercial hummus can be delicious. In fact, although I have made hummus from scratch as described, on this occasion, due to time pressure, I used Sabra hummus. I had hoped to serve the hummus with butterfly crackers but could not find them. So the butterfly morphed into mozzarella cheese and fluttered over to land on the olive tapenade.
Black Olive Tapenade
Tapenades are quite labor intensive so it pays to purchase one from a respected company. Most recipes call for a toasted crostini. However, I had read that the French often serve a tapenade on fresh, untoasted bread. That suits a Spring menu and I found it quite delicious. As noted above, the garnish was a thin slice of mozzarella cheese cut with a cookie cutter into a butterfly shape. Why mozzarella when goat cheese is such a wonderful match with black olives? Because neither young nor aged goat cheese held the butterfly shape well.
Young Allium Soup
There is something wonderful about members of the allium family in the spring. Onions of all types, garlic, shallots and even leeks are full of vibrant flavor and a light feel that their adult versions lack. Here is my version which uses four different alliums. Buy the earliest, youngest ones you can find, best located in farm or specialty markets. Ingredients 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter 1 small yellow onion, chopped 4 bunches scallions—white and tender green parts cut into 1-inch lengths, 4 leeks, white and tender green parts only, thinly sliced 4 large shallots (about 5 ounces), minced Salt and freshly ground pepper 3 cups dry white wine, in parts 2 cups water 2 cups heavy cream Garnish 3/4 cup buttermilk 4 ounces fresh goat cheese Preparation 1. In a large pot, heat the oil and butter. Add the the chopped onions, scallions, leeks, and shallots; salt and pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring, until the vegetables soften, 10-15 minutes. 2. Add 2 cups wine and boil over high heat until reduced to a few tablespoons. Add the third cup of wine, water and cream and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are quite soft. 3. Puree the soup. Adjust salt and pepper seasoning. 4. Blend the buttermilk and goat cheese. 5. Serve soup in shallow bowls and garnish with a dollop of the buttermilk/goat cheese mixture. If desired, use the point of a knife to swirl the mixture into a flower design. The soup is best when made just a bit before serving. It can be made a day ahead but with some loss of vibrancy. The buttermilk/goat cheese garnish can be made a day ahead.
The best laid plans….Doesn’t Chicken Kiev sound great as a main dish? It would be a gesture of support for Ukraine and it is, indeed, a superb preparation. However, late in the game, I discovered that my deep fryer was not working. I switched to another favorite chicken dish, this one French. Forty cloves of garlic may sound like a lot but they stew in white wine along with the chicken, becoming luscious and soft with a gentle garlic flavor and perfume. I first came across the recipe in The Food Lover’s Guide to France, by Patricia Wells, a long-time and very well-known food writer. The book covers recipes from restaurants around France. The recipe from Lyons, entitled “Poulet A L’Ail Chez Tante Paulette - Chez Tante Paulette’s Chicken with Garlic,” is below, followed by notes on the few changes I often make, but only to get more of the gorgeous sauce and yummy garlic cloves. Ingredients 3 tablespoons virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce, 15g) unsalted butter 1 chicken 3-4 pounds, cut into serving pieces, at room temperature Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste About 40 large cloves garlic, unpeeled 1 cup (250 ml) dry white wine, such as Riesling 8 slices baguette 1 clove garlic, peeled 2 tablespoons Cognac Chopped fresh parsley for garnish Preparation
Heat the oil and butter in a deep 12-inch (30cm) skillet over high heat. (If you do not have a skillet large enough to hold all the chicken in a single layer, use 2 smaller skillets, dividing the chicken, oil and butter in half for each pan.) Season the chicken liberally with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the chicken and brown on both sides until the skin turns an even golden brown, about 5 minutes each side. Carefully regulate the heat to avoid scorching the skin.
Reduce the heat to medium high. Add the unpeeled garlic cloves, burying them under the chicken to make sure they settle in one layer at the bottom of the skillet. Sauté, shaking the pan frequently, until the garlic skins are lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Slowly add the wine to the skillet, shake the pan, scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pan, and cook covered, until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes longer.
While the chicken is cooking, toast the bread on both sides. Cut the peeled clove of garlic in half. Rub both sides of the toast liberally with garlic.
Heat the Cognac in a very small pan over medium-high heat for 20 to 30 seconds. Ignite with a match and pour over the chicken, shaking the skillet quickly until the flakes subside. Cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, shaking the pan.
To serve, place the toast on a warmed large platter and arrange the chicken and garlic on top, and pour the sauce over all. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.
Yield: 4 servings. Notes:
The sauce is so delicious that I always double the amounts of oil, butter, wine and Cognac.
The garlic is wonderful and using 60 large cloves keeps everyone happy.
Using bone-in chicken breasts rather than a whole chicken works quite well. You will lose flavor if you use skinless, boneless breasts.
You may skip the toast.
Michele’s Fabulous Farro Risotto With Sauteed Mushrooms and Fennel
Michele has fallen in love with farro recently. No wonder. This ancient grain provides hearty, earthy flavor that you can boost with a variety of accompaniments. See Michele’s blog post on May 8 for some excellent recipes. Michele’s contribution for this dinner was a recipe she chose from Pickled Plum: Farro Risotto With Sauteed Mushrooms and Fennel: pickledplum.com/farro-risotto-sauteed-mushrooms.
Sugar Snap Peas with Spring Onion
Sugar snaps always have a fresh, sweet taste, and when they are young, that taste is amplified. Peas and onions are a winning combination and young peas and onions simply superb. Early onions provide a bit of bite that sets off the sweet peas beautifully but other members of the onion family do quite well, including scallions, sweet onions or shallots. Cut the stem and unzip the string from each pea pod. Steam for 2 minutes. Briefly sauté the onion in butter, then add the steamed peas and cook for a minute or two. Simple to make and a delight to eat.
Baby Arugula, Watercress and Radish Salad
Young peppery lettuces combine with young herbs for a quintessential spring salad with pizazz. The young arugula, early watercress and young radishes give us a bit of bite that does not sting along with a backdrop of sweetness crowned with crunch. Lemon and raspberry vinegar brighten it all up like spring sunshine. For a note of fun make a radish mouse (really cute) and show it alongside a large flat plate displaying the dressed salad. If time and energy permits, you might make a radish mouse to adorn each guest’s plate. They’ll love it. Herb Vinaigrette 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 2 tablespoons balsamic raspberry vinegar 6 tablespoons evoo 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley 2 tablespoons finely chopped dill 2 tablespoons finely chopped tarragon Salt and pepper to taste Salad 2 cups baby arugula 2 cups watercress 4 radishes, thinly sliced Radish mouse 1 medium-large radish 2 cloves Preparation 1. Up to several hours before serving, combine all ingredients for the vinaigrette in a jar and shake vigorously several times. 2. Just before serving, toss the salad ingredients with the vinaigrette. 3. If using, make the radish mouse. a. Position each radish so that the root end goes upward to suggest the mouse’s tail. Trim the leafy stem at the front of the radish to resemble a mouse’s pointed nose. b. For eyes, make 2 small holes with a knife where the eyes would be; insert 2 cloves, stem side in. c. Cut a slice, about 1/8-inch thick, from the bottom of the radish. This will stabilize the “mouse” on the plate and serve as “ears.” Cut the slice in half; trim and cut the straight end as needed to get the right size “ears.” Make two small slits with a sharp knife on the top front of the radish where ears would be. Insert the “ears” into the slits, with the white side to the front.
Billa is our dessert maven. She chose for her contribution a lovely strawberry cake whose appearance is as appealing as its taste. The sweet and refreshing flavor of strawberries, the iconic Spring fruit, comes through, thanks to two layers of strawberries. The batter is not too sweet and sparkles thanks to yogurt. Its texture is gratifyingly dense, which I love. Find the recipe at: https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/strawberry-cake-5288316.
Basil Panna Cotta
Does ice cream go with cake? Well, so does panna cotta. With panna cotta you can create a perfect pairing for another dessert. You can vary the sweetness and choose flavors that are not available in commercial ice cream flavors and panna cotta is easier to make than home-made ice cream. So what is a good match for a strawberry dessert? A stylish one is basil and that is especially appropriate for a spring dinner. Early basil has a delightful clean, spicy flavor that fades to bitterness as the leaves age. Basil takes to cream like a duck to water or, for that matter, like strawberries to cream. It was a great combination. Ingredients 3 cups heavy cream 9 4-inch sprigs basil 1½ teaspoons gelatin 2 tablespoons cold water ½ cup sugar 1 cup sour cream Raspberries for garnish Preparation 1. Infuse cream. Bring cream to boil in heavy pot. Rub, then plunge basil sprigs into the cream, take pot off the heat and cover tightly for 30 minutes. Strain the cream, pressing down hard until all moisture is gone from the basil. 2. Thoroughly dissolve the gelatin in the cold water for about 5 minutes. Add it to the warm cream along with the sugar. Cook over low heat until thoroughly dissolved, stirring constantly, 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then stir in the sour cream. 3. Pour equal amounts into 8 small cups or glasses with wide shallow bowls. Cover tightly and chill for at least 6 hours and for as much as 48 hours. Top with one or more raspberries.