Sometimes it seems as though the most glorious foods of spring all begin with the letter A. Avocados, artichokes and--all too briefly--asparagus have the salubrious effect of sloughing off the gloom and the dark colors of winter, offering instead the burgeoning greens of the new season.
We welcome the challenge of extracting the delicate gray-green heart of the prickly artichoke bud and dip it with great anticipation into melted butter or a spicy sauce that enhances its creamy texture. With equal pleasure we indulge in the crunch of perfectly cooked, tender-crisp asparagus stalks, seasoned with little more than a tangy hollandaise or a tad of lemon juice. Add to these two sybaritic pleasures that of gorging on the buttery-sweet, green-gold flesh of the springtime crop of avocados--who could ask for more?
At first, it's best to remind your winter-weary palate about these special flavors by serving them practically unadorned. A bit of lemon-butter for the artichokes and asparagus and a sprinkling of your favorite balsamic or fruit vinegar for the avocado is all that's needed. Later, you may want to serve them in more-crea- tive ways. If so, you'll find some ideas on Page 31 that will whet your appetite for all three of springtime's favorite A's.
1 envelope unflavored gelatin cup cold water 1 cup half and half 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened 1 cup sour cream 1 avocado, peeled and mashed Red caviar Black caviar Pumpernickel bread slices, cut in triangles Lazy Cheese Discs Soften gelatin in water; add to half and half. Stir over low heat until gelatin is dissolved. Combine cream cheese and sour cream, mixing until well blended. Gradually add gelatin mixture, mixing until smooth. Stir in avocado. Pour into lightly oiled 1-quart mold. Chill until firm. Unmold, garnish with caviar and serve with pumpernickel bread and Lazy Cheese Discs. Makes about 8 servings.
Lazy Cheese Discs
Natural Jack cheese Natural Colby cheese Cut Jack cheese into 1/2-inch squares, inch thick. Cut Colby cheese horizontally into -inch slices. Cut into quarters. Place squares and cubes 2 to 3 inches apart on non-stick baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees, 10 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer cheese to serving platter.
BABY ARTICHOKES WITH SHRIMP
6 baby artichokes Juice of 1 lemon 1/2 cup Italian or French dressing 1/2 pound bay shrimp, cooked and chilled 6 large mushrooms, chopped 1/2 teaspoon tarragon Mayonnaise Trim tips of artichoke leaves and cook artichokes upright in small amount of water until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain thoroughly on paper towels. Remove bottoms carefully, keeping buds as intact as possible. Sprinkle bottoms with lemon juice and reserve. Place leaf portion of artichokes in individual cups or bowls and pour dressing over each artichoke. Chop reserved bottoms finely and add shrimp, mushrooms, tarragon and enough mayonnaise to moisten ingredients. Fill artichokes with shrimp mixture, spreading leaves apart to insert filling. Makes 6 servings.
BRAISED ARTICHOKES WITH CHEESE FONDUE SAUCE
6 medium to large artichokes, trimmed cup butter or margarine 1 cup dry white wine 1 large onion, chopped 1 clove garlic, chopped 1 tablespoon whole pickling spice 1 cup water 1 pound Cheddar cheese, shredded 1 cup beer 1 teaspoon dry mustard 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce Place artichokes in Dutch oven or large kettle and add butter, wine, onion, garlic, pickling spice and water. Cover tightly and simmer 35 to 40 minutes or until bottom of artichoke is easily pierced. Heat cheese and beer in top of double boiler over simmering water until cheese is melted and smooth. Stir in mustard and Worcestershire. Drain artichokes, remove choke and place on serving platter. Pour sauce into large bowl or individual bowls. Dip leaves into sauce. Makes about 6 servings. BRAZILIAN AVOCADO CREAM
3 avocados, halved and peeled cup powdered sugar cup lime juice cup light rum Salt 1/2 cup whipping cream, whipped Lime slices Puree avocados with powdered sugar, lime juice and rum until smooth. Season to taste with salt. Fold in whipped cream and spoon mixture into compotes, coupes , pot de cremes or individual souffle dishes. Garnish with lime slices. Chill thoroughly. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
1 1/2 pounds asparagus, trimmed cup vinegar 3/4 cup oil teaspoon paprika 2 tablespoons minced parsley 2 tablespoons diced green onions cup diced cooked beets 1 hard-cooked egg, diced Salt Additional hard-cooked eggs Cook asparagus in 1 inch boiling salted water until tender-crisp, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and chill thoroughly. Combine vinegar, oil and paprika and blend well. Stir in parsley, green onions, beets and diced egg. Season to taste with salt. Arrange asparagus on chilled platter. Slice remaining eggs and surround asparagus with slices. Spoon part of dressing over asparagus and eggs. Serve remaining dressing on side. Makes 4 to 6 servings.