Put some spring into your recipes

Adrienne Freeman Originally Published March 21, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated March 20, 2013 at 10:06 a.m.
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Adrienne Freeman

This Parmesan and Asparagus Tart uses a freezer staple — puff pastry — that can transform almost anything into something special.

Although spring doesn’t always bring Easter, Easter is the harbinger of all things spring — lighter clothing, lengthier days, the long dormant ground softening to bring forth the first tender shoots of asparagus and other tastes that are forever linked to the season. Just as the Christian holiday signals rebirth, the spring season brings renewal.

Though farm-to-table and the use of local, seasonal foods are current trends in the culinary world, they really aren’t new at all. Families traditionally have relied on what crops were ready in the field, and the best cooks understand that there is no better quality than fresh vegetables, rinsed free of soil from their winter sleep, cooked just fork tender and finished with a swirl of creamy butter and a sprinkle of coarse salt. No expensive pan or best-selling cookbook can improve on the easy perfection of Mother Nature.

In Arkansas, the bounty of goodness this spring includes tender asparagus, good-for-you greens and peas in a rainbow of colors. Strawberries are just a few rainy days away from a melt-in-your-mouth shortcake. Of course, the progress of farming provides us with tomatoes year-round, but anyone who has ever shaken a little salt on a still warm, juicy fruit right from the vine knows the difference.

But with the knowledge that tradition is what can make or break a holiday, don’t dare deny Uncle Joe his favorite ham with spring peas! A surprising recipe twist might be what you need to give your menu its own renewal. The springtime salad below uses peas, corn and peppers — such beautiful color. The salad looks like it spilled out of the Easter Bunny’s basket.

The asparagus tart uses a freezer staple — puff pastry — that can transform almost anything into something special. Wrap the pastry around fish fillets, top with cheese and vegetables, or cut into strips and brush with herbs for a quick appetizer breadstick.

Springtime Pea Salad

I love this salad not just because it tastes great (though it does), but because it looks like an Easter recipe. The salad is pretty, fresh and has bright Easter colors.

Ingredients:

1 pound fresh or frozen tender peas, thawed and drained

3/4 cup frozen kernel corn, thawed, drained

1/2 cup minced purple onion

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper

1 cup shredded sharp-cheddar cheese

1/2 cup chopped cooked bacon

1/4-1/3 cup sour cream

1/4-1/3 cup mayonnaise

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, combine the peas, corn, onion, peppers, bacon and cheese.

Stir in the sour cream and mayonnaise. (Cook’s tip: Start with the minimum amount and add until it is the consistency your family likes.)

Add salt and pepper, and mix well.

Refrigerate, uncovered, at least 2 hours before serving.

Spinach and Strawberry Salad With Poached Shrimp and Poppy Seed Dressing

Salad:

One bag baby spinach, pre-washed

1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

1 pint strawberries, hulled and quartered

1/2 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced

12 poached shrimp, shelled and deveined

Dressing:

3/4 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons poppy seeds

Directions:

Whisk all dressing ingredients together in a bowl, and set aside to chill in the refrigerator. In a large salad bowl, toss together all the salad ingredients except the chicken. Divide between four serving plates. Slice chicken on the slant and arrange over greens. Dress just before serving.

Parmesan and Asparagus Tart

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 green onion, white and green parts, sliced

1 pound asparagus, tough ends trimmed, 4 to 5 inches long

1 (14-ounce) sheet puff pastry, defrosted if frozen

1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 large egg yolk mixed with 1/2 teaspoon water

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Heat olive oil in a sauté pan. Add green onion, and sauté about 1 minute. Add asparagus, and cook over medium heat until asparagus is crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Remove from heat.

Roll out pastry to a 10-by-16-inch rectangle on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper. Transfer pastry and paper to a baking sheet.

Spread ricotta evenly on pastry, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Arrange asparagus spears evenly over tart. Sprinkle cheese over all. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Brush edge of the tart with egg and water mixture. Bake until pastry is golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool slightly and serve warm. If the puff pastry “puffs,” it will deflate as it cools.

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