Raspberries

gold and red raspberries and beets

gold and red raspberries and beets

We have gone netting-mad at our place this summer, covering all the small fruits with
white, fine-mesh shrouds that actually keep out Japanese beetles and stink bugs, as well as the birds. Which means that in spite of the fungus-encouraging rain, we have more decent raspberries at the moment than we have ever had in years past.

I am a lover of home-made raspberry jam, and so that’s where most of my berries go, especially the ones that are a little too imperfect to eat whole and fresh. Nothing makes the bleak month of February bleaker than to open the cupboard and find all the raspberry jam is gone, so this year, I am making gallons.

I used to believe the raspberry was one of those fruits that, unlike the pear, apple, quince and rhubarb, wasn’t really suited as an ingredient in savory dishes. I suspect I was prejudiced by my early training as a cook in the 1980s, when dishes like vanilla flavored lobster were all the rage. Back then, raspberry vinegar was A Thing, and most of it, I suspect, was pretty bad quality white vinegar hopped up on red food coloring and artificial flavoring. I get queasy just thinking of the stuff.

I’ve changed my mind though, because now that I have my own raspberry patch and can make my own raspberry vinegar, I can taste the merits of good raspberry vinegar. I just got back from the Charlevoix region of Quebec, and brought back some wonderful free-range Mulard duck breasts. Seared then slow roasted, they were the perfect foil to a Raspberry Agrodolce. Agrodolce means “sour-sweet” in Italian, and is the general term for a sauce made with caramelized sugar, vinegar and fruit. It’s simple to make and a useful technique to know, because it goes together quickly and is suited to any fruit in season.

Everything in the Garden Salad July

Everything in the Garden Salad July

I’ve also been serving the nicest raspberries in my Everything in the Garden Salads. As the
name says, the ingredients depend on what happens to be fresh and ready to eat in the garden. I simply wash things that need it, do a little chopping or peeling, and then arrange the ingredients in a still life on a plate. Served with good olive oil and vinegar on the side, or a little dish of vinaigrette for dipping, I like to eat these salads with my fingers, savoring the colors on the plate and the mix and match of flavors. Children love eating this way, too, which is why children are always welcome at my table.

raspberry nut scone

raspberry nut scone

And finally, I’ve devised a new scone recipe that takes advantage of the juiciness of raspberries to dispense with a lot of the fat that goes into most scone recipes. I’ve replaced the butter with almond oil, which is easy to find these days in grocery stores. Walnut or hazelnut oil would work well, too, just make sure whatever you buy is fresh, expeller-pressed and only lightly refined (refining makes an oil heatproof, but takes out all the flavor). Keep open nut oils in the refrigerator or they will go rancid; they are delicious in salad dressings. In a pinch you can replace the nut oil with vegetable oil. Just be sure to handle this dough lightly, as it is soft and sticky and will become tough if kneaded.

Raspberry Nut Scones

  •  3 cups flour
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
  • 1/4 cup almond or other nut oil, or regular cooking oil
  • 1 generous cup raspberries (fresh or frozen but not thawed)
  • 1 scant cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a half sheet-tray with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, walnuts, baking powder, baking soda and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the ingredients until the nuts are finely chopped. Add the oil and pulse several times until it is evenly distributed in the dry ingredients.

Put the mixture into a large bowl. Add the raspberries and toss gently to distribute them in the dry ingredients. Pour in most of the buttermilk and toss the mixture gently with your fingertips, just until the mixture begins to come together. Depending on how juicy the berries are, you may or may not need to use all the buttermilk. If necessary, add the rest of the buttermilk to moisten any dry crumbs in the bottom of the bowl.

Gently pat the mixture together into a ball – do not knead; the dough will be quite soft. Sprinkle a countertop generously with flour, place the ball of dough on it, then pat the mixture into a rectangle about 6 inches by 9 inches. If the dough sticks, slide a spatula under it to loosen and sprinkle a little more flour on the counter. Sprinkle the top of the rectangle evenly with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and press the sugar gently so it adheres to the surface of the dough.

Using a large, sharp knife or a pizza cutter, cut the rectangle in half the long way, into two 3 inch by 9 inch pieces. Cut these in thirds, into six 3 inch by 3 inch squares. Cut these in half diagonally, into 12 triangles.

Use a spatula to lift the triangles on to the parchment lined sheet-tray, leaving a bit of space between scones. Bake in the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes, turning once so the scones brown evenly. They are done when golden brown on the bottom and around the edges and they are no longer soft to the touch in the center but spring back a bit. Try not to over-bake.

Allow the scones to cool for a few minutes before serving warm, with butter and jam, if desired.

Raspberry Agrodolce

  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 tablespoons good quality fruit-based vinegar, such as Spanish sherry vinegar or good apple cider vinegar
  • 2 minced shallots or small early summer onions or scallions (if using early onions or scallions, use both the white and the green parts)
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon or other herbs (mint and purple basil are both good)
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the sugar and vinegar in a small non-reactive skillet and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Allow to bubble for a few minutes, then add the minced shallots. Continue cooking until the mixture thickens a bit and becomes syrupy.

Add the minced herbs, the raspberries and the salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the raspberries disintegrate and the mixture thickens a little.

The sauce can be served as is, seeds and all. However, if you don’t like raspberry seeds, you may press the mixture through a sieve to remove some or all of them. Taste for seasonings before serving and add more salt and pepper and possibly a little vinegar if you like.

Serve warm or hot with grilled meat. This is particularly delicious with rich meats, such as duck breast or foie gras.

Makes about 2 cups unstrained, about 1 cup strained.

Everything in the Garden Salad

Pick what is freshest, and place a tiny bit of each thing on the plate. Serve oil and vinegar or dipping dishes of vinaigrette on the side. The salad illustrated here includes:

  • grated white beets with lemon juice and tarragon
  • sliced Chioggia beets
  • purslane
  • dill blossoms
  • parsley
  • spearmint
  • nasturtium flowers and leaves
  • golden Anna raspberries
  • Purple Royalty raspberries
  • ribbons of purple shiso
  • Sun Gold tomatoes
  • Black Krim tomatoes
  • sliced raw fennel

Good King Henry and Spring Greens with Feta Cream Sauce over Pasta

left to right: chives, nettles and Good King Henry

left to right: chives, nettles and Good King Henry

Who could resist an edible green that tastes like spinach and also happens to be an easy-to-grow perennial? One that can be eaten as an asparagus-like sprout in early spring, as a cooked green until autumn frosts, and whose seeds (like those of its cousin quinoa) can be used as a grain in winter?

But many gardeners and local food lovers have never heard of Good King Henry, (Chenopodium bonus-henricus) a member of the spinach and beet family also known as Lincolnshire spinach, fat hen and perennial goosefoot (Chenopodium, its family name, means goose foot). Happily, Good King Henry is becoming better known, perhaps because nearly every book about permaculture and perennial vegetables mentions it.

I first discovered Good King Henry in the Fedco catalogue ten years ago; they still sell it for all of $1.30 a packet. Good King Henry seed, like that of many perennial plants, likes to be fooled into thinking it has been through winter before it will sprout. The trick is to “stratify” the seed by tucking it into a plastic bag along with a little moist potting mix, then popping it into the refrigerator for a few weeks. When the seed is returned to room temperature, it thinks spring is here, and comes up. Sometimes it takes two trips to the refrigerator before perennial seeds wake up; I’ve learned to be patient and ever-optimistic when trying to start finicky plants.

For years my home-grown Good King Henry, though it has a reputation for being a garden thug and over-running its neighbors, looked wan and spindly. Turns out I planted it in too sunny and dry a spot. When moved to a place with half a day of shade, it quickly began filling up the bed. Luckily I’d planted it alongside mint, another garden thug, and the two plants seem to have called a truce. Good King Henry also drops lots of seed that sprouts readily when exposed to the natural temperature fluctuations of a garden, so if you want to keep it in check, harvest the flowers (which are edible).

A bed of Good King Henry and mint

A bed of Good King Henry and mint

Like its cousin spinach, Good King Henry contains a great deal of oxalic acid, enough that eating it raw might make your stomach hurt and your teeth feel stripped of enamel, so it is always cooked. In early spring, its unexpanded sprouts are picked at about 5 inches tall and and then steamed like asparagus (hence another of its nicknames, “poor man’s asparagus”). In Europe gardeners blanch the sprouts by piling the Good King Henry bed with a deep layer of mulch in fall. When the white tips poke through in spring, the mulch is pushed aside to reveal harvest-ready blanched sprouts.

Both the leaves and flowers can be eaten, steamed or blanched first to remove some of the oxalic acid. Use Good King Henry in any recipe that calls for its relatives, spinach, chard and beet greens. Or use it to replace wild greens, such as nettles and lamb’s quarters (another relative).

I have never harvested the seeds of Good King Henry to use as a grain, but I’ll give it a whirl this fall and report back. If you’d like to try them, keep in mind that like unprocessed quinoa, Good King Henry seeds are coated with bitter saponins and must be soaked and rinsed to remove them before being cooked.

Here’s a delicious way to use Good King Henry, a simple sauce made of spring greens cooked with garlic and olive oil served over pasta along with a contrasting silky sauce made of feta and cream. If you’re avoiding fat, skip the cream and just crumble a little feta over the top of the greens and pasta. And if you’re avoiding dairy, omit the cheese altogether. In any case, serve the pasta with a slice of lemon to spritz over the top – it adds just the right something.

Spring Greens with Feta Cream over Pasta

Spring Greens with Feta Cream over Pasta

Pasta Topped with Spring Greens and Feta Cream

  • 1/2 pound pasta of your choice
  • 1 recipe Spring Greens, below
  • 1 recipe Feta Cream, below
  • the rind of 1/2 preserved lemon, rinsed and chopped (optional)
  • red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 lemon, washed and cut into eight slices

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Divide it between four plates. Top each serving with Spring Greens, then drizzle Feta Cream over the greens and pasta. Top with a sprinkling of chopped preserved lemon and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes, if desired. Place a few slices of lemon on each plate, if desired, for diners to squeeze over the pasta to taste. Serve immediately.

Serves four.

For the Spring Greens:

  • 1 bunch Good King Henry or spinach (about 10 ounces)
  • 1 smaller bunch wild greens, such as nettles (harvest with gloves to avoid stings), lambs quarters, dandelion greens, etc. or chard or beet greens (about 6 ounces)
  • 1 bunch fresh chives (about 2 ounces, more if desired), cleaned and chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • hot red pepper flakes, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Put the lid on a large pot of cold, salted water and bring it to a boil.

Meanwhile, pull the leaves and flowers from the stems of the Good King Henry and wash in a bowl of cold water. Do the same for the other greens – if using nettles, be sure to wear gloves to harvest and prepare.

Blanch the greens in the boiling water for a few minutes, until they turn bright green. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove the greens from the hot water and submerge them in cold water to stop the cooking. Remove them from the cold water, squeeze them to remove some of the moisture in them (but not until they are completely dry). With a chef’s knife, chop the greens a bit, then set them aside.

In a large, non-reactive skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then add the chives and garlic. Let them cook until the garlic is getting soft, then add the greens and lower the heat a little. Allow the mixture to cook until it is heated through, but not dry, then stir in the lemon juice. Add hot red pepper, salt and black pepper to taste. Serve hot over pasta with Feta Cream.

For the Feta Cream:

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 ounces feta, crumbled

Bring the cream to a simmer in a small pot over medium-low heat. Stir in the feta and let the mixture bubble for a minute, until the feta begins to dissolve in the cream and the mixture thickens. Serve hot over pasta with Spring Greens.

3 Savory Rhubarb Recipes

Pork Chops with Orange-Rhubarb Sauce and Lovage; Rhubarb Marinated Sea Scallops with Orange-Fennel Salad; Fresh Oysters with Rhubarb Mignonette Sauce

Pork with Orange-Rhubarb Sauce and Lovage

Pork with Orange-Rhubarb Sauce and Lovage

Rhubarb is spring’s own zucchini. By which I mean, even if you don’t have your own patch of rhubarb, chances are good you have a neighbor who is swimming in the stuff every year at this time, and who will eagerly foist some off on anyone who asks. That’s because rhubarb seems to live forever, and most folks who live in old houses in New England have an ancient plot that came with the deed. These well-established clumps produce a huge number of juicy pink stalks year after year without any attention at all – though they do like moisture, lots of sun and an occasional infusion of compost.

Rhubarb is sometimes called the “Pie Plant,” for obvious reasons. But rhubarb isn’t just for pies. In fact, it has the kind of versatility that most other edibles lack, happy in desserts as well as savory dishes, good both cooked and raw, delicate enough to take a supporting role in a recipe, and assertive enough to take center stage.

Though many people wrinkle their noses when contemplating the acidity of rhubarb, especially in its raw state, that acidity is probably rhubarb’s best asset. You might not want to eat rhubarb the way Scandinavians do – by the raw stalk, dipped in sugar – or as Chileans do – by the raw stalk dipped in salt and hot dried chile pepper. But if you think of rhubarb as a substitute for citrus fruits like lemons and limes, or as a balancing ingredient in recipes that feature rich foods like pork and shellfish, you will certainly find dozens of ways to substitute rhubarb into your favorite recipes.

Below you’ll find a few recipes I’ve developed for using rhubarb in savory dishes. The first, Pork Chops with Orange Rhubarb Sauce and Lovage, contains another of spring’s vegetable perennials, lovage. Lovage looks like giant celery and tastes like it looks, which is to say a tiny bit of it imparts a highly concentrated celery taste. Used sparingly, it is a wonderful addition to salads, soups and other dishes. Substitute celery leaves or parsley, if you don’t have any.

The second recipe uses rhubarb juice to partially “cook” fresh scallops, just as lime juice is used in seafood ceviches. The longer the scallops marinate, the more the acid will permeate the delicate flesh, and the less time the scallop will need to heat to be cooked through. If you like, scallops that have been marinated for 4-6 hours can be served cold, without the final cooking step. However, I prefer the lovely contrast the warm scallops create juxtaposed to the cold, crunchy fennel orange salad.

The final recipe is my take on a traditional sauce for oysters, mignonette. Usually mignonette sauce is made by combining red wine vinegar, minced shallots and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Here, to balance the tartness of rhubarb, I’ve substituted a mellow-sweet balsamic vinegar (buy a good one – it’s expensive, but worth it) for the sharper red wine vinegar. The resulting sauce is wonderful, not just on oysters, but with any rich food. I’m particularly fond of it spooned over a slice of crusty bread spread with a triple crème cheese, such as Saint André.

Pork Chops with Orange-Rhubarb Sauce and Lovage

  • 4 boneless pork loin chops (or a small loin roast cut into four slices)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter or cooking oil (you may need more if cooking in batches)
  • 2 large shallots or one small onion, minced
  • the juice of 2 large oranges (about 1 cup) and the grated rind of 1 orange
  • 2 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
  • 1/4 chopped lovage leaves plus lovage sprigs for garnish (you may substitute parsley or celery leaves)

If possible the day before serving, sprinkle both sides of the pork chops with salt and pepper, lay them on a paper towel on a plate, cover with another paper towel and leave in the refrigerator overnight. This dries the outside of the pork and allows it to absorb a bit of salt, which will cause the meat to brown nicely and remain juicy when cooked.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and melt the butter or heat the oil in it. Add the pork chops to the pan, working in two batches if necessary so as not to crowd the meat. When one side is golden, flip the chop and cook the other side, covering the pan to avoid splatters and to cook the meat more quickly. Thick chops will be done in about ten minutes total. Don’t overdo it, as the chops will be resting in a warm place while the sauce is prepared and will continue to cook from residual heat.

When the chops are cooked, set them aside in a warm spot while making the sauce. Add the shallots to the skillet in which you have cooked the pork – if there’s a lot of fat in the pan from cooking, you may pour most of it off. Or, if there is no fat left in the pan, you may add another pat of butter or bit of oil to it before cooking the shallots. Cook the shallots until they wilt, but don’t brown them.

Add the orange juice to the pan and stir well to scrape up the bits of cooked meat juice from the bottom of the skillet. Add the orange rind, rhubarb and raisins and stir well. Turn the heat down so the rhubarb simmers slowly. When it begins to break down after a few minutes, taste the mixture and add as much sugar as needed to balance the sauce. Stir in the heavy cream, taste again and add salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the sauce between four plates, top each bed of sauce with a pork chop, sprinkle a little lovage over the sauce and garnish the top of the chop with a sprig of lovage. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Rhubarb-Marinated Sea Scallops with Orange-Fennel Salad

Rhubarb Marinated Sea Scallops with Orange-Fennel Salad

Rhubarb Marinated Sea Scallops with Orange-Fennel Salad

  • 1/2 pound sea scallops
  • 1/2 pound of rhubarb, cleaned and chopped into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 3 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil plus a little more for cooking the scallops
  • 2-3 oranges, skinned and divided into sections
  • 2-3 baby fennel bulbs or 1 regular fennel bulb
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cut the tough piece of white muscle from the scallops (if necessary) and discard. Slice each of the scallops into three thin rounds. Put the rounds into a non-reactive bowl.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the rhubarb until it is pureed (you may also use a grater to turn it into a puree). Put the puree into a fine sieve over a bowl and press on it to extract all the juice from it (you may also do this by squeezing the puree with your hands.) You should wind up with about 3/4 of a cup of juice. Pour this over the scallops, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to 6 hours. Discard the rhubarb solids.

Wash the fennel, then slice it into very thin slivers and toss with the orange segments. Mix together the chives, parsley, olive oil, hot pepper, a little salt and pepper and set aside. Remove the scallops from the refrigerator and drain, discarding the rhubarb juice.

Heat a skillet, add a little oil to it and then saute the scallops over very high heat, less than a minute on each side. The longer they have marinated, the less time they will need to cook.

Arrange the scallops and orange salad on 4 plates, drizzling them with a little of the oil and herb sauce. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 as an appetizer.

Rhubarb Mignonette Sauce and Oysters

Rhubarb Mignonette Sauce and Oysters

Fresh Oysters with Rhubarb Mignonette Sauce

  • 1/4 cup excellent quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup finely minced shallots
  • 1/4 cup finely minced fresh rhubarb
  • plenty of freshly ground pepper (to taste)
  • 1 dozen fresh oysters on the half-shell

Combine all ingredients. Serve chilled on fresh oysters or other raw shellfish. The sauce is also delicious on fresh crusty bread thickly spread with butter or a soft, rich cheese, such as Saint André.

Makes a bit more than 1/2 cup.

The First Peas of Spring – Grilled

grilling peas

grilling peas

I’ve just harvested a basket of the peas I planted in my unheated greenhouse back in February. The variety is called “Coral;” planted outside in spring, they take about two months to produce ripe peas, rather than the three months this batch took.

One nice thing about greenhouse peas is that they get big enough before the sparrows find them that I don’t have to cover them for protection. It took me years to figure out it was sparrows not woodchucks who were eating my newly sprouted peas down to nubs. I had no idea the little beggars could be so destructive.

Here’s my favorite way to eat fresh peas: hot from the grill. No need to shell them; diners will do that for themselves. Try serving them as an appetizer while dinner is cooking on the grill. They’re delicious on a warm evening alongside cold, locally brewed ale or with the slightly fizzy, pale green Portugese wine known as Vino Verde. Just be sure to leave a bowl out for the empty pods.

grilled peas

grilled peas

Grilled Peas

(serves 8 as an appetizer)

  • 2 lbs. fresh peas in the shell

Wash the peas and let them sit in a bowl of cold water. If the pods are long enough, you can lay them carefully directly onto the grill; otherwise place them in a single layer in a grill basket made for vegetables (you can also use a grill pan on the stove, if cooking indoors). When the peas have grill marks on one side, (this will take two or three minutes), turn the peas and grill on the other side.

When they’re bright green and steaming (some might pop open), drop them into a bowl and serve. Leave a small pair of scissors or knife out to help guests who don’t want to get too messy snip off the stem-end of the peas (I, glutton that I am, use my teeth). Once the stem is off, simply unzip the string that runs down the pod, and slurp up the hot peas.

Ramps, Asparagus and Dandelion Greens Pizza

ramp, asparagus and dandelion green pizza

ramp, asparagus and dandelion green pizza

The longer I garden, the more I appreciate perennial vegetables. Plant them once, take care of them by weeding, watering and feeding the soil around them with good compost, and they’ll return reliably year after year. Many of these perennials are among the first edibles of spring, which seems to make them taste even more delicious to winter-weary taste buds.

dandelion greens

dandelion greens

Some perennial spring vegetables don’t even require planting. Dandelion greens, chicory, sorrel, and, later in spring, lambs quarters and nettles, are all wild plants that are abundant self-seeders (aka, weeds). All of them are best picked young and tender, before they’ve flowered (with nettles, be sure to wear gloves, to avoid the stinging hairs that are destroyed in cooking).

Many of these “weeds” are so delicious that vegetable breeders have come up with more refined versions sold through seed catalogues. Two of my favorites are super-cold hardy Italian Red Dandelion (it’s actually chicory) and Good King Henry, a member of the weedy Goose Foot family that tastes like spinach and can be harvested from early spring into fall.

Asparagus, unlike perennial weeds, takes a bit of work. It likes lots of good compost and requires watering all summer, or it won’t be productive year after year. Too, you have to keep grass from growing in amongst the shoots, and war with the dreaded asparagus beetle, which can wreak havoc.

One method of achieving both weed and bug suppression is to interplant asparagus with parsley and dill, which can out-compete grass and which asparagus beetles hate. The herbs are also a good use of space, providing a season long crop even after the 4th of July, when good gardeners let their asparagus grow into full, tall ferns to gather energy for next season.

purple asparagus

purple asparagus

It’s not too late to put in an asparagus bed this year, though you won’t be able to harvest any juicy spears until a few seasons have passed and the bed has filled in. Though asparagus can be grown from seed, the most productive plants are male clones (they don’t go to seed) bought as 2 or 3 year-old roots. Two widely available and good choices are “Jersey Supreme” and “Purple Passion.”

ramps and dandelion greens

ramps and dandelion greens

Ramps, if you’ve never encountered them, are a wild native woodland allium, related to both onions and garlic and tasting a bit like both. They’re happy at high, cool elevations, in the kind of moist mixed woodlands where trilliums and golden seal grows beneath maples and beeches, and can completely carpet the early spring forest floor. It seemed likely that ramps would grow around here, but though I scoured our woodlot every spring, I could never find wild ramps growing in it.

Finally, a few years ago, I took matters into my own hands and ordered a shipment of mature ramps from Ramp Farm Specialties in West Virginia. Owner Glen Facemire only ships his bulbs in February and March (seeds are available all the time), so when he heard that New Hampshire had a big snow storm brewing just as he was putting my ramps in the mail, he gave me a call to talk me through how to care for his “babies” until I could put them in the ground (it turned out that a couple of window boxes in a cold frame did the trick).

ramps in window box and cold frame

ramps in window box and cold frame

The ramps arrived huge and healthy, and now, a few seasons later, are beginning to spread both where I’ve planted them in the woods, and in the more cultivated sections of my garden. They’re particularly happy growing under the shade of the grape arbor. Though you can buy 3 dozen ramps for $24.75, the most economical way to order them is 1000 bulbs for

ramps growing under a grape arbor

ramps growing under a grape arbor

$194.00 (shipping is free). I’d suggest splitting an order with friends and scouting likely locations this summer (you’ll want to try several spots to be on the safe side). Do order early, so you don’t miss out, and be prepared with window boxes and a cold frame, just in case.

Early spring vegetables fresh from the garden don’t need much in the way of preparation. All of them are delicious cooked fast and hot with olive oil or with chopped bacon. They’re also perfect stir fried along with fresh spring chives, a bit of ginger and a little soy sauce combined with water or orange juice. Ramps and asparagus can be lightly tossed in oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, placed in a grill basket and cooked briefly on the grill.

Below you’ll find a recipe that combines dandelion greens, ramps, and asparagus cooked with bacon as the topping for pizza. Though the pizza dough needs a full day to rise (or overnight in the refrigerator), once it’s ready, the recipe goes together in a snap. Feel free to substitute store-bought dough if you’re short on time. Too, feel free to leave out the bacon if you’re a vegetarian, and to substitute in whatever fresh spring vegetables you have on hand. Spinach or escarole would be delicious.

And if you’re only feeding two people, divide the topping recipe in half. Store the extra pizza dough in the refrigerator in an oiled plastic bag and use it later in the week. It will be good for several days.

Ramp, Dandelion and Asparagus Pizza

for the dough:

  • scant 4 cups flour (can be up to ⅓ whole wheat)
  • ¼ teaspoon dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt (can be up to 2 teaspoons, if desired)
  • 1½ – 1¾ cups water (if your water is chlorinated, use spring or filtered water)

for the topping:

  • 4 slices thick bacon, cut into ½ inch chunks
  • 1 large bunch dandelion greens (about ½ pound), trimmed of roots, well washed in cold water and chopped
  • 1 large bunch ramps (about 10), trimmed of roots, well washed and chopped; or use 6 large cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large bunch asparagus (about 1 pound or more), trimmed, washed and chopped
  • 1½ pounds fresh mozzarella, broken up into chunks
  • hot red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper, to taste
  • good olive oil for drizzling

For the dough, combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the water (you will need the larger amount if using whole wheat flour) and stir well with a spoon until well combined – do not knead. If the mixture seems too dry (it should be quite sticky), add a little more water to incorporate all the flour.

Cover with plastic and set on a cool counter to rise. If it is very warm or you’d like to use the dough more than 18 hours later, place in the refrigerator. Allow the dough to rise until doubled – if it’s warm this will happen in about 12 hours, if it’s very cool, in about 18 hours.

When ready to make the pizza, preheat the oven to 450-500 degrees (my oven doesn’t go to 500 – use the higher heat if you can). If you have a pizza stone, place it on the top rack.

Divide the dough into 4 balls. Lightly oil them with olive oil, cover them with plastic and set aside on the counter to rise and soften while make the topping.

Heat a large skillet and add the bacon if using (otherwise, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and continue with the greens, below). Cook the bacon until it is beginning to brown. Remove the bacon from the pan, pour off most of the fat, and return the skillet to the heat. Add the dandelion greens, ramps or garlic, asparagus and bacon pieces, if using. Cook, stirring, until the greens are wilted and tender. Season to taste with hot red pepper, black pepper and salt (you may not need any salt, depending on the bacon). Remove the greens from the pan and set aside.

Turn the oven to broil to super-heat the pizza stone. If you don’t have a pizza stone, place a large aluminum sheet tray in the oven to heat (do not use a tray that has a non-stick coating as it will burn).

Stretch the dough either by rolling with a rolling pin (you’ll need to use flour to keep the dough from sticking) or with your hands to a very thin, approximately 12-inch rough circle. Place the round on a well floured pizza peel (if you have one), or onto the back of a well floured aluminum sheet tray. Cover the dough to within about 1 inch of the edge with ¼ of the greens and then ¼ of the mozzarella (leave spaces between the pieces of cheese). Drizzle the pizza with a little olive oil.

Open the oven door and slide the pizza from the peel onto the pizza stone. If you are not using a pizza stone, carefully remove the hot sheet tray from the oven, sprinkle it with a little flour, then slide the pizza from the overturned sheet tray onto the hot sheet tray and return it to the oven.

The pizza will cook very quickly – in about 2-4 minutes, depending on your oven. If the pizza begins to burn (a few black spots are desirable, but not an over-all char), turn the broiler off, but leave the oven temperature at 450-500 degrees.

You may need to slide a spatula under the pizza and turn it, or turn the sheet tray, so that it cooks evenly. It is done when the edges are well browned, and black in spots. Remove from the oven, slide onto a cutting board, and cut up and serve immediately.

Repeat with the other three pieces of dough. Serves 4 generously.

Rhubarb Swirl Ice Cream with Crumble Cookies and Rhubarb Crumble Muffins

Rhubarb Swirl Ice Cream with Crumble Cookies

Rhubarb Swirl Ice Cream with Crumble Cookies

Rhubarb is here at last, in all its tangy pink glory. Though technically a vegetable, culinarily rhubarb qualifies as the first fruit of spring, and its appearance at the end of a long winter is a cause for celebration in these parts.

It’s probably a good thing rhubarb makes its arrival solo, just when we are most hungry for fruit, or we might be tempted to ignore it. Truth is, compared to the riches to come – the sweet berries, luscious peaches and cherries of summer followed by the incomparable pears and apples of fall – rhubarb is pretty humble. For one thing, you can’t eat it sun-warmed and freshly picked, but must cook it first with lots of sugar to make it palatable. And then, once cooked, it loses its crunch altogether, taking on the consistency of one of those nutritious purees that babies and invalids make faces at.

But even cooked, rhubarb is a gorgeous sight (at least if you’ve got the pink kind, which is the only kind I bother with). Rhubarb tea, the color of pink bougainvillea, looks like it came straight from Jamaica. And while a little more subdued in hue, rhubarb fool (sweetened rhubarb puree mixed with whipped cream) beats even pink Marshmallow Fluff for eye appeal.

That said, for a rhubarb recipe to really shine, the mushiness of the fruit needs to be balanced by a crunchy component – think rhubarb pie and rhubarb crumble. I happen to be especially fond of crumbles of any sort. They are simplicity itself to make – one part butter, two parts flour, two parts sugar, a little spice, a little salt – mixed with deft fingertips in only a few minutes. And they are heavenly in the mouth, especially when coupled with something soft and tart, like rhubarb.

Knowing how to make rhubarb crumble is practically a citizenship requirement in New Hampshire, so I won’t bother with that recipe, but below you will find two variations on the theme. Both are made with lots of crumble and both contain the distinctly un-local addition of citrus fruits (sorry, diehard locavores), lemon in the first, orange in the second. There is something about citrus that makes it a perfect foil for rhubarb. Both recipes would be good without it, but with it are ever so much better.

Rhubarb Crumble Muffins

 For the muffins:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar, divided into ½ and ¾ cups
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter (if you use salted, omit the salt), melted and cooled
  • grated rind of one lemon (wash before grating, especially if the lemon isn’t organic)
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1-1/2 cups chopped rhubarb (cubes should be ½” or less)
  • 1 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 recipe crumble (below)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a muffin tray with muffin cups, or butter and flour each cup.

In a small bowl, combine the rhubarb, ½ cup sugar and the lemon rind. Set aside to macerate.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, ¾ cup sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the melted butter and eggs until well combined. Whisk in the yogurt or buttermilk and lemon juice.

Add the rhubarb to the dry ingredients and toss well to distribute the fruit. Pour the wet ingredients over the flour and rhubarb mixture and stir gently with a spatula or wooden spoon just until well combined.

Divide the batter between the 12 muffin cups. Sprinkle crumble over the batter, dividing the crumble evenly between the muffins. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, turning once so they bake evenly. The muffins are done when they spring back when touched in the center.

Crumble

  • ½ stick (¼ cup) unsalted butter, still on the cool side, cut into pieces
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • pinch of salt

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Use your fingers to incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is well-combined. If the mixture is too sandy looking, squeeze the ingredients with your fingers and then break them apart into pea-sized crumbs.

 Rhubarb Swirl Ice Cream with Crumble Cookies

For the ice cream:

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • ½ vanilla bean
  • grated rind of one orange (be sure to wash the orange well first, especially if it’s not organic)
  • ½ cup brown sugar (packed)
  • yolks of 8 eggs

For the rhubarb swirl:

  • 1 lb. rhubarb, chopped
  • ½ cup sugar
  • juice of one orange

Cut the vanilla bean in half the long way, then using a small knife scrape the seeds out of the bean into a medium pot. Add the bean, the milk, the cream and the orange rind to the pot and bring the mixture to a gentle simmer over low heat. Shut the heat off, put the lid on the pot and allow the mixture to steep while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

Combine the rhubarb, sugar and orange juice in a non-reactive pot and bring to a simmer over low heat. Allow the mixture to cook and thicken for about 20 minutes – ½ hour. Stir occasionally to keep the mixture from burning. The swirl is done when it takes on the consistency of jam. Allow the mixture to cool for several minutes and then refrigerate several hours until cold.

Reheat the cream mixture over a low flame. Meanwhile whisk the brown sugar into the egg yolks, combining for a minute or so until the mixture lightens and thickens just a little bit. Whisking constantly, pour some of the hot cream into the yolks to temper them. When you’ve poured about half the cream into the yolks, pour the tempered mixture into the pot with the rest of the cream. Keep the heat very low while you stir the mixture constantly with a wooden spoon, being sure not to let the mixture boil (this will cause it to curdle). The mixture will gradually thicken until it coats the wooden spoon; this will take about 5-10 minutes.

When the mixture has thickened, pour it into a bowl and then set the bowl into a larger bowl filled ½ way with ice water (be careful not to slosh water into the ice cream). Stir the ice cream to cool it quickly to room temperature. When cool, cover and refrigerate several hours, until cold.

When cold, use an ice cream maker to freeze the orange vanilla ice cream, following the manufacturer’s directions. When the mixture is ready for the freezer, scoop it into a container. Plop spoonfuls of the rhubarb mixture over the top of the orange-vanilla ice cream and then use a knife to swirl the mixture through the ice cream. Put the swirled ice cream into the deep freeze to harden for several hours.

When ready to serve, let it sit at room temperature until it warms enough to scoop easily. Scoop it onto crumble cookies and serve. If you like, use two cookies to make ice cream sandwiches.

Crumble Cookies

  • 1 stick unsalted butter (8 Tbs.), still on the cool side, cut into pieces
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put parchment paper on two cookie sheets.

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Use your fingers to incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is well-combined. If the mixture is too sandy looking, squeeze the ingredients with your fingers and then break them apart into pea-sized crumbs.

Divide the crumble into small piles, six to a sheet. Gently press the crumble down and shape it into 12 circles. Don’t press too hard – you want it to remain a bit crumbly.

Bake the cookies for 5 – 10 minutes, until the edges are brown and the center golden. Allow to cool on the cookie sheets before trying to move them.

Eggs from Pastured Chickens: Amazing

What to do with lots of fresh eggs: Goat Gouda and Pecan Meringues with Fresh Greens and Lemony Herb Dressing and Boston Cream Cupcakes

The flock of Black Jersey Giant hens I share with my sister-in-law has just turned four, and they’re still laying more eggs than our two families can absorb. Getting rid of the excess is no problem, though – actually quite the opposite.

Black Jersey Giant Hen

Black Jersey Giant Hen

Okay, I’m going to brag a little here; forgive me. Our eggs are really good. Our chickens are true free rangers, spending most of the day outside eating bugs and greens. The proof of their excellent diet is in the egg yolks, which are calendula orange, so bright that when I make cakes with them, the batter looks as if I’ve dyed it with yellow food coloring.

It turns out, according to several studies done by Mother Earth News, that the average egg produced by pastured chickens contains 7 times more beta carotene than the average conventional supermarket egg, hence the brilliant yolks. The studies also show pastured chickens produce eggs with ⅓ less cholesterol, ¼ less saturated fat, ⅔ more vitamin A, twice as many omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, and between 4 and 6 times as much vitamin D.

Here are two egg-rich recipes. The first is for a whites-only nut and cheese meringue cracker that’s a delicious contrast to spring greens. The second recipe is a good way to use up the leftover yolks, Boston Cream Cupcakes, light enough that you’ll want to eat two, but rich enough that you should probably only eat one. The pastry cream recipe makes more than you’ll use filling the cupcakes, but it’s delicious on its own or topping fresh berries or stewed rhubarb.

Goat Gouda and Pecan Meringues with Spring Greens

Goat Cheese Gouda and Pecan Meringue with Spring Greens

Goat Gouda and Pecan Meringue with Spring Greens

  • ½ cup pecans
  • 2 ounces goat gouda, grated (about ½ cup)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne or hot red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
  • 4 large egg whites
  • tiny pinch of cream of tartar
  • a mixture of fresh spring greens, washed and dried, about 8 cups total
  • Lemony Herbed Salad Dressing (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a half-sheet tray with parchment paper; butter and flour the parchment. Set aside.

Place the pecans, cheese, salt, and peppers in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely chopped. Be careful not to pulse so much the mixture turns into a paste.

In the bowl of an electric mixer whip the egg whites and the pinch of cream of tartar using the whisk attachment until the whites form soft peaks. Fold the nut mixture into the whites carefully, trying not to deflate the whites completely.

Spoon the batter evenly into 8 spots on the prepared parchment, leaving lots of space between the spots. Use a spoon to flatten and spread into approximately 4 inch wide rounds – don’t let the rounds touch.

Place in the oven – if your oven has a convection fan, turn it on as it will speed the cooking process. Cook the meringues until they are just golden brown, about 25 minutes. Turn off the oven, but leave the meringues in it and leave the convection fan on.

After 1/2 hour, remove the tray from the oven and allow the meringues to cool completely. To serve, place each meringue on a plate. Toss the greens with the dressing, then top each meringue with greens. Serve immediately, before the meringues get soggy.

Serves 8.

Lemony-Herb Salad Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar (or other mild white vinegar)
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 small clove garlic minced
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons mild oil, such as sunflower
  • the leaves from several sprigs fresh thyme, lightly chopped (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh chopped dill

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, salt and minced garlic. Gradually whisk in the oils, dribbling them in slowly so the mixture emulsifies. When all the oil has been added, whisk in the herbs. Makes about 3/4 cup.

Boston Cream Cupcakes

Boston Cream Cupcakes

Boston Cream Cupcakes

  • Light Pastry Cream (recipe below)
  • Chocolate Glaze (recipe below)

For the cupcakes (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated: The Science of Good Cooking):

  • 2 cups all purpose flour (fluff the flour a bit with the measuring cup before scooping and leveling with a knife – don’t pack it down)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at cool room temperature, cut into 12 pieces
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature (put in a cup of warm water if necessary)
  • ¾ cup whole milk, at room temperature (heat a little in the microwave, if necessary)
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla
  • butter and flour to grease the cupcake pan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine about 1 tablespoon of softened butter with about 1 tablespoon of flour to make a smooth paste. Use this mixture to grease the cupcake molds evenly and thoroughly.

Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer and stir gently with the paddle to combine. Add the butter a few chunks at a time while mixing gently. As the butter is cut into the dry ingredients, add more butter until it is all mixed in. You should wind up with a mixture that resembles coarse cornmeal.

Add the eggs, one at a time, combining well after each addition. Finally, add the milk and vanilla. Beat well a minute or two until light and fluffy.

Divide the batter evenly between the 12 cupcake impressions. Place in the oven and bake, turning once for about 20 minutes. The cupcakes are done when they have risen and spring back when touched in the center. A toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake will come out clean. Try not to over-bake.

Let the cupcakes cool a few minutes before gently lifting them onto a cooling rack. Let them cool completely before filling and frosting.

To fill, cut the top off each cupcake and use a small sharp knife to cut a cone shape out of them – leave enough cake on the bottom and sides so that the cupcake doesn’t fall apart. Fill the cavity with pastry cream, enough so that a little squeezes out the side when the top is replaced. Spread the top of each filled cupcake with some of the chocolate frosting, enough so that it drips down the side. Chill the cupcakes until they set, then serve. Makes 12.

Light Pastry Cream

  • 1½ cups whole milk
  • ½ vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup flour, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter
  • ¾ cup cold whipping cream

Have ready a sieve fitted over a clean bowl, a whisk, and a wooden spoon. Place the milk in a medium saucepan. If using the vanilla bean, split it in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the milk. Add the bean halves to the milk along with about ⅔ of the sugar. Heat the milk over medium heat until it is just about to simmer.

Meanwhile, place the yolks in a medium bowl and whisk in the remaining sugar. Continue whisking for about a minute, until the yolks are lighter in color and a little thicker. Whisk in the sifted flour.

When the milk is hot, lower the heat beneath it. Temper the egg yolks by scooping out about a cup of the milk and pouring it into the bowl of egg yolks, whisking constantly. Add another cup of the hot milk, whisking constantly. Finally, pour the tempered egg yolks into the pot of hot milk, whisking constantly.

Heat the mixture over low, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Scrape the the pot with the spoon to incorporate the thickening mixture on the bottom back into the thinner mixture on top. Occasionally whisk the mixture briskly to break up lumps. Continue cooking the mixture, stirring constantly, until it just barely begins to bubble; it should be very thick. Pour the pastry cream through the sieve into the clean bowl. Stir the cold butter into the pastry cream until it melts and is completely incorporated.

Place the bowl of pastry cream in a cold bath of ice and water in a larger bowl being careful not to let any of the water get into the cream. Cover the surface of the cream with a piece of plastic wrap to keep a skin from forming on it as it cools. When the pastry cream is cooled, you may place it in the refrigerator for up to a day before proceeding.

When the pastry cream is completely cold, place the whipping cream into the chilled bowl of an electric mixer and whip with the chilled whisk attachment. Whip the cream until very stiff and thick, almost to the point of over-whipping. Fold the whipped cream into the cold pastry cream and use to fill the cupcakes.

Chocolate Glaze

  • 8 ounces good quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped or chips
  • ⅔ cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

Combine the first three ingredients in a small pot and heat over a low flame microwave. Stir gently until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is homogenous. Remove from heat and stir in the butter until it has melted and is incorporated. Allow the mixture to cool a little before using to frost the cupcakes. Makes about 1¾ cups.