Food, Mar/Apr 2017

Celebrate Spring’s Arrival

By Robin Anish

There’s no place better to be when spring arrives than in the Berkshires and Southern Vermont and no better time for getting together with friends to revitalize winter-weary spirits with some fresh air, a hike on one of the many trails throughout the region, or maybe a first paddle of the season on a local river.

Feeling renewed, head into the kitchen to prepare a meal inspired by some of the best ingredients that spring affords us right here in our own backyard.

First things first. Set a beautiful table. Not a fussy table setting but a simple, welcoming table.

Spread a tablecloth, use dishes that you love and add fresh flowers. That’s a beautiful table.

To get some ideas for flowers to use in a spring table arrangement, I visited Bridget Brown who owns Berkshire Flower Company, a charming, eclectic floral shop in Pittsfield, Mass. Bridget is a floral artist who brings in the most beautiful and often unique flowers to create her one-of-a-kind arrangements.

Expecting she might show me something exotic, what did Bridget recommend? Tulips! A simple bouquet of tulips the quintessential spring flower.

So, the table is set. Let’s get cooking!

On the menu you’ll find:

Rhubarb Gin & Tonic
Shaved Asparagus Salad
with local feta cheese and crushed pistachio nuts
Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb
served with Fresh Mint Chimichurri Sauce
Herb Buttered Orzo
Sugar House Maple Cookies

Tulips

Rhubarb Gin & Tonic

Rhubarb makes its appearance locally in the spring so it is fitting to start off with a fresh rhubarb cocktail made with gin distilled in the the Berkshires. Berkshire Mountain Distillers produces small batch, handcrafted spirits in Sheffield. (Check out their website berkshiremountaindistillers.com to learn more.) Try the Greylock Gin for this rhubarb gin and tonic.

Start by making a simple syrup:

  • 2 cups slice rhubarb stalks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water

Combine rhubarb, water, and sugar in a small saucepan. Heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and rhubarb has broken down. Let cool. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and refrigerate. The syrup can be made ahead of time and kept refrigerated for up to two weeks.

Chill some tall glasses and a bottle of tonic. Cut a lime into wedges and have plenty of ice.

For each drink, fill a glass with ice then pour over:

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 2 ounces rhubarb syrup
  • 4 ounces tonic water

Give a quick stir, garnish with a lime wedge and serve.

Tulips 2

Shaved Asparagus Salad

Fresh asparagus is in abundance at this time of year and this recipe for shaved
asparagus salad is a delicious alternative to the usual steamed or roasted asparagus. For this recipe, asparagus is blanched just long enough to bring out its flavor and bright green color but maintain a raw crunch. The stalks are shaved into thin ribbons and lightly dressed with a tangy vinaigrette. A garnish of feta cheese and crushed pistachio nuts finishes the dish. I added feta to the salad because I’ve really been enjoying a particular feta cheese that is made in Bennington, Vt. It’s produced by Maple Brook Farm. The flavor is a bit milder and less salty than most feta cheeses, making it a nice compliment to the other ingredients in this salad. I buy Maple Brook Farm feta cheese at Big Y supermarket. Check the Maple Brook Farm website at maplebrookvt.com for more sources.

For the salad, you will need:

Vinaigrette:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon dried tarragon or 2 teaspoons fresh, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together ingredients to emulsify.

Salad:

  • 2 pounds asparagus, ends snapped off
  • 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup crushed pistachio nuts

When buying asparagus for this recipe, chose the thickest stalks available.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Put some ice in a large bowl and fill with cold water to create an ice bath.

Cut the tips from the asparagus stalks and set aside. Drop the stalks into the boiling water and cook for just 30 seconds, quickly drain and immediately plunge into the ice bath. Do not cook any longer. The asparagus should still be crisp. Drain when stalks are cool. Lay out on paper towels to dry. Repeat the same process for the reserved tips but cook them for 2 minutes.

Using a swivel-blade vegetable peeler, strip long ribbons off the stalks. Gently toss the ribbons and tips with the vinaigrette and let marinate for a few minutes before plating and garnishing with some crumbled feta cheese and a sprinkling of pistachio nuts. Serve immediately.

Tulips 3

Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb

Spring lamb is such a treat. So bring the grill out of winter storage and fire it up to prepare what might be the best lamb you have ever eaten, a butterflied leg of lamb with fresh mint chimichurri.

To butterfly a leg of lamb, the bone is removed and the meat trimmed and flattened out so it looks like a big steak. A butcher will do this for you. For this recipe, ask the butcher to prepare one butterflied leg of lamb (4 to 5 pounds), trimmed of excess fat.

Start by marinating the lamb.

Marinade:

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 4 cloves of garlic finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary or 1 tablespoon dried
  • Salt and pepper

Stir together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon zest, garlic and rosemary. Liberally salt and pepper the lamb on both sides. Spread marinade all over the meat and put in a large, sealable plastic bag pressing out as much air as possible. Refrigerate for at least an hour or up to 24 hours. Remove from refrigerator 1 hour before cooking. Preheat an outside grill to medium high. Pat lamb dry. Grill about 10 minutes on each side, or until an instant-read thermometer horizontally inserted into thickest part of meat registers 130 degrees for medium-rare. Let meat rest 15 minutes before slicing.

To facilitate grilling, insert long skewers horizontally through the meat to hold it together in one piece.

You can also broil the lamb. Adjust the oven rack 6 inches from the broiler. Put the broiler pan on the rack and preheat along with the broiler. Lay the meat on the preheated pan and broil about 12 minutes on each side or until instant-read thermometer registers 130 degrees. Let rest 15 minutes before slicing.

Chimichurri is a fresh sauce made up of herbs, a little vinegar, olive oil and spices that originates in South America. There are many variations but this version with an abundance of mint is perfect for grilled lamb.

Chimichurri:

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 packed cup fresh spearmint leaves
  • 1 packed cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil

In a food processor, pulse garlic several times until chopped.  Add the mint and parsley and pulse until finely chopped. In a small bowl, combine the herb mixture with the vinegar, salt, red pepper flakes and olive oil. Serve at room temperature with the lamb.

Tulips 4

Herb Buttered Orzo

Orzo, a small rice shaped pasta, cooked and tossed with butter, minced parsley and chives compliments grilled lamb nicely. Follow cooking directions on the package and simply add butter and minced parsley and chives as desired.

Tulips 5

Sugar House Maple Cookies

One of the greatest treasures mother nature offers as spring arrives is maple syrup. I get syrup right from the source with a yearly jaunt to one of the many sugar houses throughout the Berkshires and Southern Vermont. Grade B dark syrup is my favorite. The color is dark and the flavor is robust. I highly recommend it for baking these Sugar House Maple Cookies as a sweet ending to a memorable meal that celebrates what we wait for all winter long, the arrival of spring!

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup real maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, cream the butter, shortening
and brown sugar. Add the egg, syrup and vanilla. Mix until well blended. Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda. Stir into mixture until well blended. Shape into 1 inch balls and roll in sugar. Chill the dough a bit to make it easier to roll into balls. Place on greased cookie sheets about 2 inches apart and flatten slightly. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

The birds are chirping outside my window! Happy spring!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s