Growing up on the east coast in the 80s, the advent of spring was eagerly anticipated after months of snow and below zero weather. The first sign of spring was when the ice and snow started to thaw. Then, we knew it was time to tap the maple trees in our backyard and make maple syrup in the barn. Once the snow melted and the crocuses and lilies of the valley bloomed we knew that asparagus would be next to push itself up out of the earth, followed by sweet peas, lettuces, and herbs. Spring cuisine is a reflection of hyper seasonality and microclimates. It is a celebration of rebirth and renewal and after months of eating canned and frozen food, it was — and still is — immensely joyful.
My five essential courses for a spring feast reflect both my New England upbringing and current California sensibilities. It is ingredient-driven and must include peas, asparagus, fava beans, lamb and of course, maple syrup.
Canape: Sweet Pea and Mint Mousse in Cucumber Cups
The sweetest peas of the year are the tiniest and most delicious early in the season. It’s worth the trip to the farmer’s market to purchase them. I steam and puree the peas with leeks and spring garlic, then lighten the puree with mascarpone before piping the mixture into cucumber cups.
Fava Bean and Ricotta Toast
Oh, the fava bean, I’m always happy to see them arrive and happy to see them go leaving the labor of the pods and peels behind. The pure ‘green’ flavor and texture of the crushed fava’s sitting atop homemade soft, creamy ricotta is unparalleled and perfect for spring.
Asparagus and Herb Salad with Goat Cheese, Toasted Pinenuts and Oat Clusters
The bright, tonifying taste of new asparagus coupled with delicate crunch when thinly sliced or shaved is both a palate cleanser and a reminder that spring has arrived.
Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb
Tender and delicate in flavor lamb is a perfect vehicle to showcase the flavors of spring herbs. If you can procure your lamb from a local farmer, all the better.
Oeufs ala Neige
This meringue poached in maple syrup instead of sugar syrup is served with vanilla bean creme anglaise and maple caramel. In New England, maple taffy is poured over fresh snow or shaved ice rolled onto a popsicle stick and eaten with great delight. Here I’ve used that memory in a classic French dessert to create a new, elegant version.
5 Essential Pantry Items
Sweet Chili Sauce
Here’s a tip: melt 2 tablespoons butter and mix with 1⁄2 cup sweet chili sauce for a quick and easy glaze for pork and poultry. It’s especially good on baked chicken wings.
I don’t just keep lemons in the pantry, I have a couple stashed in my car for culinary emergencies on the road as well. Lemons are truly one of the most usual fruits, for both sweet and savory preparations. You can use the zest in sauces, pilafs and desserts.
Out of vinegar? You can make a pleasant lemon vinaigrette with the zest and juice.
Need to perk up a dish? Or balance salt? Use lemon juice!
A Hunk of Good Quality Aged Cheese
My default choices are parmesan and super fancy aged Gouda. These cheeses can be eaten on their own as a snack or appetizer or used to add the finishing touch to a pasta dish, risotto or sauce.
Canned tomatoes are the overlooked workhorse of the kitchen. With a can of tomatoes by my side, I can make an Italian tomato sauce or braise, Indian masalas, tomato soup or any number of other dishes.
Salty, Sweet and Savory Granola
Can be used as a garnish in a salad or sprinkled over steamed and lightly sauteed vegetable to add flavor and texture. If the granola is homemade and includes superfoods such as chia, flax or other seeds all the better to boost the nutritional content of your meal.