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Freshen up

After months of potatoes and parsnips, chard and cabbage, the first glimpses of spring are a welcome sight. Delicate lettuces and herbs, tender vegetables and early berries explain why chefs have a little extra pep in their steps. Adios winter. Spring has sprung.

March 25, 2007|Leslee Komaiko

ENGLISH PEA CROSTINI WITH SPRING RADISH HERB SALAD

Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer

ENGLISH PEA PUREE

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil 1 leek stalk, cleaned and chopped

(use the entire stalk)

1/2 white onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, smashed

1 1/2 cups fresh English peas

(about 1 pound in shell)

Salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the leek, onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Add the peas and continue to cook until they are soft. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Strain the pea mixture, reserving the oil. Using either a ricer or a food processor, puree the pea mixture. Add enough of the reserved oil so that the consistency is similar to mashed potatoes.

*

CROSTINI

6-ounce French baguette, cut into 1 1/2-inch slices

Olive oil (reserved)

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush each side of the sliced bread with the reserved olive oil. Place the slices on a cookie sheet and toast until golden brown, about 6 to 10 minutes. Spoon the pea puree (should be slightly warm) on top of the crostini. Drizzle with a drop of the reserved oil and season with freshly cracked pepper. Serve with:

SPRING RADISH HERB SALAD

1 bunch Breakfast, French

or English radishes, thinly sliced

1/2 cup fresh mixed herbs, such as basil,

chives, Italian parsley and tarragon

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper

Humboldt Fog goat cheese, optional

In a small bowl, toss together the sliced radishes, mixed herbs, lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper. If desired, crumble a bit of Humboldt Fog goat cheese on top of the salad.

*

'Spring is my favorite time of year. It's when English peas and radishes come out. They're not like the radishes in the old days. They don't burn your mouth. And they have a nice crispness that gives texture to the salad. With all the different colors and shapes, they're fun to use.'

--Chef Suzanne Tracht, Jar, Los Angeles

*

SAUTEED CALAMARI WITH FIDEOS, RAMPS, ENGLISH PEAS AND BOUILLABAISSE SAUCE

Serves 6 as an appetizer

BOUILLABAISSE SAUCE

1 cup olive oil

2 lobster shells (from the body)*

1 pound fish bones,* washed (no fins)

1 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped fennel

1 leek, chopped

2 Roma tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup peeled, chopped Yukon gold potato

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 pinch saffron

1/2 cup white wine

1/4 cup Pernod

1 cup carrot juice

3 cups water

Salt and pepper

Add the olive oil to a 6-quart saucepan. Over medium heat add the lobster shells and fish bones, saute and allow to brown about 5 minutes. Remove the bones and shells and discard. Lower the heat and in the same oil add the onion, celery, fennel and leek. Stir occasionally until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, potato, coriander seeds, saffron, white wine and Pernod. Reduce the liquid by 50%. Add the carrot juice and water. Simmer one hour over low heat, or until the total volume is reduced by 50%. Strain and reserve the vegetables. In a blender, add the liquid and half of the vegetables. (Discard the rest of the vegetables.) Puree and strain again through a fine sieve. *Available at fish markets.

FIDEOS

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup dry fideos pasta or vermicelli, broken into 2-inch pieces

1 cup chicken stock

Salt and pepper

In a 2-quart pan, add the oil over medium heat. Add the dry pasta, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon until it browns. When the pasta is evenly toasted, add the chicken stock and continue to stir until it all has been absorbed, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

ENGLISH PEAS

1 pound fresh English peas

(about 1 1/2 cups shelled)

1 teaspoon olive oil

Salt and pepper

Shell the peas and add to 1 quart of boiling water. Cook for 30 seconds. Chill in ice water. Dry well. Reheat in the olive oil over medium heat, adding salt and pepper to taste.

RAMPS

Remove the outer leaves from 6 ramps and wash thoroughly. Slice each ramp into 3/8-inch-thick pieces. Add the ramps to 1 quart of boiling water and cook 10 seconds. Chill in ice water. Dry well.

CALAMARI

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound calamari, cleaned

and sliced in 1/8-inch rings

Salt and pepper

Ramps

In a very hot saute pan add the oil, then the calamari and saute 30 seconds. Add the cooked ramps and saute 5 seconds. Remove from the pan.

To serve: For each plate, arrange the peas at the top, then the fideos, calamari and ramps. Finish the calamari and ramps with a little bouillabaisse sauce. For a more rustic presentation, mix all the ingredients together and top with the bouillabaisse sauce.

*

'It's exciting to start using different things that are starting to pop up, like tender wild ramps. They're abundantly available for a month, and then they're gone. It has a great flavor--the taste is kind of like a scallion with a little more garlicky flavor. But it's distinctive and very perfumey.'

--Chef Craig Strong, Ritz-Carlton, Huntington Hotel, Pasadena

*

GRILLED MARINATED ASPARAGUS WITH ASIAGO

6 to 8 servings

MARINADE:

3/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

1 tablespoon shallots, finely chopped

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