The Flavors of Spring

Gourmet Girl - March 6, 2013

"Seasonal fruits and vegetables are at their peak in flavor and freshness as well as optimal in nutrition..."

The arrival of spring in just a few weeks means that seasonal ingredients will start popping up in local restaurants and at the Santa Fe Farmers' Market as well as on your own table.

Seasonal fruits and vegetables are at their peak in flavor and freshness as well as optimal in nutrition, so this is a great time to serve up ramps and peas, asparagus, zucchini, arugula, pea shoots and more. Greens are abundant, from spinach and matche to arugula, mezuno mustard greens and more. For dessert, nature offers apricots, rhubarb, strawberries and other delicious treats.

Spring lamb makes a wonderful seasonal meal and we have an amazing source at the farmer's market in Shepherd's Lamb. A rack of their lamb with new potatoes, asparagus and strawberry rhubarb pie for dessert makes an amazing Easter meal or an elegant Sunday dinner.

Spring in New Mexico is often harsh. Snow regularly falls in May, and the last freeze date is May 15, even though temperatures drop below that well after the date. Farmers have to contend with difficult growing conditions that include wind, hail and freezing temps. The food they bring to market is an indication of just how hard they've battled the elements to be able to sell it to you.

One of the best ways to find out how to prepare these fresh, spring ingredients is to ask the farmers you're buying them from directly. They are happy to share their favorites recipes as well as tips on preparing the items.

We've also got a treasure trove of cookbooks by New Mexico authors filled with inspired recipes that use regional spring ingredients, many of which you'll find at the farmers' market. Cheryl and Bill Jameson, James Beard-award winning cookbook authors, have penned many volumes of New Mexico and American recipes that showcase our seasonal fare. Deborah Madison, another James Beard award-winning chef, has also cookbooks celebrating New Mexico's cuisine and ingredients.

Here's a menu featuring the seasonal food of spring. It makes a lovely Easter dinner, a Sunday supper or just a nice meal to celebrate the changing of the seasons. Happy Spring!

Mustard Roasted New Potatoes (Serves 5; from The Barefoot Contessa)

1/2 pounds small red potatoes (or small Yukon Gold potatoes)
2 yellow onions
3 tablespoons good olive oil
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
Kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Cut the potatoes in halves or quarters, depending on their size, and place them on a sheet pan. Remove the ends of the onions, peel them, and cut them in half. Slice them crosswise in 1/4-inch-thick slices to make half-rounds. Toss the onions and potatoes together on the sheet pan. Add the olive oil, mustard, 2 teaspoons salt, and the pepper and toss them together. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the potatoes are lightly browned on the outside and tender on the inside. Toss the potatoes from time to time with a metal spatula so they brown evenly.

Serve hot sprinkled with chopped parsley and a little extra salt.

Roasted Asparagus (Serves 8; from The Barefoot Contessa)

2 pounds fresh asparagus
Good olive oil
Kosher salt, plus extra for sprinkling
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Break off the tough ends of the asparagus and, if they're thick, peel them. Place the asparagus on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, then toss to coat the asparagus completely. Spread the asparagus in a single layer and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast the asparagus for 25 minutes, until tender but still crisp.

Spring Lamb Chops (Serves 2; from Shepherd's Lamb website)

4 lamb chops
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
2 teaspoons dried rosemary leaves
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

Mix all ingredients for the marinade and marinate lamb chops for 1 to 1.5 hours.

Preheat grill or broiler. Grill or broil chops for 3-4 minutes per side, or until meat is still slightly pink in the center. Allow meat to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Ricotta Strawberry Napoleons (Serves 5; from Cooking Light)

2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 (14 x 9–inch) sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons canola oil
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese (such as Calabro)
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
2 cups chopped strawberries
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons Grand Marnier (orange-flavored liqueur)

Preheat oven to 350°.

Place almonds in a mini chopper; process until finely ground. Add granulated sugar; pulse to combine.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place 1 phyllo sheet on pan (cover remaining phyllo to prevent drying). Combine butter and oil; brush lightly over phyllo. Sprinkle phyllo sheet with about 1 1/2 tablespoons almond mixture. Top with another phyllo sheet; brush lightly with butter mixture, and sprinkle with remaining almond mixture. Top with 1 phyllo sheet; brush lightly with butter mixture, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut phyllo into 15 (3 x 2 3/4-inch) pieces. Separate phyllo pieces on baking sheet. Cover the phyllo with another sheet of parchment paper. Top with another baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Carefully remove top baking sheet and parchment paper. Cool phyllo on a wire rack.

Combine ricotta and honey. Combine berries, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, and liqueur; let stand for 10 minutes. Place 1 phyllo piece on each of five dessert plates; top each with 1 1/2 tablespoons ricotta mixture and about 2 tablespoons strawberry mixture. Repeat layers once; top each with 1 phyllo piece and serve.