Illustration by Bambi Edlund
At long last, spring has arrived. There’s a special shade of green that Mother Nature reserves for use only in the springtime; budding trees flaunt new foliage with this neon-like hue against cerulean-blue skies, while grass that’s been long dormant and brown sends up brightly colored stalks to herald the season of reawakening. Likewise, the first crops of spring have flavors that taste alive, vibrant and new.
Fresh herbs sprout and endow us with a treasure trove of flavors to season spring’s bountiful offerings. A new clutch of berries ripens, bringing a remembered taste of sweet freshness. Spring lamb brings the delicately rich flavors that mark a time of new birth, while backyard chickens rest once again in the warmth of the sun and share a renewed wealth of eggs.
Here’s a little feast created especially to celebrate the unique flavors of spring—my favorite season. Enjoy!
GARDEN FRESH GREEN PEA SOUP
Green peas, shelled fresh from the garden, provide one of the most distinctively green flavors of spring. Combined in a soup with the bold tastes of fresh Mexican mint marigold—also known as Texas tarragon—and the fresh mint going wild in the warm garden, the simple peas are transformed into a bowl brimming with flavors that make you feel good all over.
2 T. Texas Olive Ranch extra-virgin olive oil
3 large fresh green onions, chopped, including green tops
2 t. minced fresh Mexican mint marigold
1 heaping t. minced fresh mint
¹/8 t. cayenne pepper
¼ t. freshly ground black pepper
3 c. shelled fresh green peas, or one thawed 10-oz. bag frozen green peas
1 qt. rich chicken stock, preferably homemade
¼ t. kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 c. heavy cream
4 T. sour cream
4 T. cucumber, peeled, seeded and very finely chopped
Heat the olive oil in a heavy 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the green onions, Mexican mint marigold, mint, cayenne pepper and black pepper. Sauté, stirring often, until the onions are wilted—about 3 minutes. Stir in the peas, add the chicken stock and bring the soup to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat, add kosher salt to taste and let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the peas are very tender.
Puree the soup in batches in a food processor or blender. Return the soup to a clean pot and cook for 30 minutes, or until the soup is slightly thickened. Stir in the heavy cream and cook just to heat through.
Serve hot, in rimmed soup bowls, with a tablespoon of sour cream in the center of each bowl. Toss the finely chopped cucumber with the ¼ teaspoon of salt, blending well. Scatter a portion over the sour cream and serve.
For Goat Cheese and Cilantro Mashed Potatoes recipe please click here to find it in our Edible Austin recipe section. Spring cilantro has a vivid, fresh flavor that adds a note of brightness to any dish. Blended with Wateroak Farms delicate goat cheese in mashed potatoes, it provides a delicious variation on ordinary mashed potatoes. Even folks who dislike goat cheese love this flavor-packed addition to the meal.
GREEN SALAD WITH BOSQUE BLUE CHEESE AND BUTTERMILK DRESSING
For blue cheese lovers, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a crisp, green salad with a decadent blue-cheese dressing. I like to use a combination of crisp romaine and delicate butter lettuces in this salad—a nice blend of crunch and tenderness. If at all possible, use cheese from Veldhuizen Family Farm, near Dublin, TX. The combination of fresh herbs blended with the Veldhuizen Bosque Blue creates a bold, yet very pleasing, flavor combination. The dressing will keep for about two weeks in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container.
Serves 4 to 6
3 T. whole (not low fat) buttermilk
¼ c. crème fraîche (see note)
2 small spring onions, roughly chopped, including green tops
1 medium garlic clove, minced
¾ t. Meyer lemon juice, or other lemon juice if not available
¾ t. minced fresh Mexican mint marigold
¾ t. minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 t. minced fresh mint
¹/8 t. freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt to taste
1 c. (4 oz.) crumbled Veldhuizen Bosque Blue cheese
8 c. mixed sliced hearts of romaine tossed and torn butter lettuce leaves
Homemade garlic croutons, chopped Kocurek Family Artisanal Charcuterie duck bacon and spiced pecans, such as Bandera Foods’ Killer Pecans, to garnish.
Combine the first 10 ingredients in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until the mixture is very smooth. Season to taste with the salt and pulse to blend. Add the blue cheese and pulse to blend—there should still be visible chunks of cheese.
Pour into a container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate until ready to serve. The flavor develops nicely if the dressing is allowed a 24-hour rest in the refrigerator before serving.
To serve the salad, pile equal portions of the mixed greens onto chilled salad plates, mounding them up into little hills. Spoon some of the dressing down the center of the greens. Scatter the garnishes on and around the greens and serve while the plates are still nice and cold.
Note: Crème fraîche can be found in the dairy department of specialty food markets, but it’s easy to make your own. Simply whisk a tablespoon of sour cream into a cup of heavy cream and blend well. Cover with plastic wrap and leave out in a warm (80°) spot for 24 hours. Chill well before using.
Makes about 1¼ cups
3 medium garlic cloves, peeled
2 egg yolks
½ t. salt
1 c. Texas Olive Ranch extra-virgin olive oil
1 T. fresh lemon juice
In a food processor fitted with a metal blade running, drop the garlic cloves through the feeding tube to mince. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg yolks and salt and process until the yolks are thickened and light lemon yellow in color—about 2 to 3 minutes. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the machine running, pour half of the olive oil in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube. With the machine still running, add the lemon juice, processing until blended, and then add the remaining olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Taste for salt and adjust as needed. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.
GRILLED SPRING LAMB CHOPS WITH GARLIC, CILANTRO AND JALAPEÑO PESTO
I love baby spring lamb chops—especially grilled ones—and grilling, of course, is an official rite of spring. When cooked to a perfect medium rare, their flavor is just irresistible—slightly earthy and subtly rich—so I don’t like to mask that marvelous taste with heavy sauces. I created this pesto, with its burst of green flavors, especially to pair with the grilled chops. It’s the perfect complement to their flavor—adding a bit of zest without overwhelming the flavor of the lamb. French-boned chops have all of the meat removed from the slender top portion of the bone, leaving the bone bare.
2 bunches fresh cilantro
1 bunch fresh mint
3 T. minced garlic
2 heaping T. skin-on sliced almonds, toasted
¼ c. minced seeded jalapeño
½ c. red wine vinegar
¼ t. kosher salt, plus more to taste
½ t. cayenne pepper
¼ c. or more Texas Olive Ranch extra-virgin olive oil, and more for coating lamb
2 8-bone Twin County Dorpers baby lamb rib racks
Freshly ground black pepper
Make the pesto first. Combine the first 9 ingredients in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until smooth. The mixture should be fairly stiff and spreadable. If you prefer a looser consistency, add additional olive oil. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve at room temperature.
Build a hardwood charcoal fire (I like oak) and allow the fire to burn down to the point where the coals are glowing red and covered with a layer of white ash. Or heat a gas grill to medium-high heat. Cut the lamb racks into two-bone portions—you should have a total of 8 double chops.
Brush both sides of each chop with some of the olive oil, season each side with salt and freshly ground black pepper and grill the chops on the first side for about 4 minutes. Flip the chops and grill for 4 to 5 minutes longer for medium-rare chops, or 6 minutes for medium. The internal temperature should be 128° to 130° for medium-rare doneness. Serve 2 double chops per person, sauced with some of the pesto.
For Pan-Seared Spinach with Red Onion, Golden Raisins and Garlic recipe please click here to find it in our Edible Austin recipe section. This is one of my favorite side dishes, borrowed from Catalonia, where it’s often served in tapas bars. I especially like to serve it with pork or lamb—the hint of sweetness from the raisins harmonizes well with the earthiness of the meat.
ROSEMARY AND OLIVE OIL CAKE
WITH FRESH BLACKBERRIES, CARAMEL DRIZZLE AND CHANTILLY CREAM
The origin of this delightfully different cake isn’t clear. I first tasted, and loved it, at the first Olives Olé Festival hosted by the San Antonio Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International in 2009. The festival was one of the chapter’s fund-raising events, and chapter members prepared many of the cakes sold at the concessions tent. This cake was a huge hit. Chapter member June Hayes told me that she’d adapted the recipe from one that was featured on the Food Network. I investigated several recipes for olive oil cakes—each was a bit different—tested several and came up with this version served with blackberries, caramel sauce and Chantilly cream. June uses strawberries, which are also quite good, but I really like the earthy flavor of spring blackberries against the bold, resinous nuances of the fresh rosemary. The Caramel Drizzle and Chantilly Cream make eating it one of life’s more memorable moments—and we all need more of those.
Serves 8 to 10
1 pt. fresh blackberries or strawberries
1 c. plus 3 T. sugar, divided
½ c. freshly squeezed orange juice
1 c. all-purpose flour
¼ t. baking powder
¼ t. baking soda
½ t. kosher salt
3 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
¾ c. Texas Olive Ranch extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for oiling the pan
¾ c. whole milk
1½ t. lemon zest
1½ t. orange zest
1½ t. minced fresh rosemary leaves
Good quality orange marmalade, at room temperature
Caramel Drizzle for serving (recipe below)
Chantilly Cream for serving (recipe below)
Rosemary sprigs and reserved blackberries, to garnish
The day before you will serve the cake, place the blackberries in a bowl. Pick out 20 perfect berries for garnishing the cake servings and refrigerate them. If you are using strawberries, remove the leafy tops and slice the berries. Scatter 3 T. of sugar over the berries and smash them to release some of their juices, but don’t completely puree them. Cover them, and refrigerate overnight. Make the Caramel Drizzle in advance, as well, but don’t make the Chantilly Cream until just before serving the cake.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly oil the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a parchment paper circle, then oil the parchment paper and sides of the pan with olive oil and set aside.
Place the orange juice in a small saucepan over medium heat and reduce the juice to ¼ cup (see note).
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl, blend well and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the egg yolks and ¾ c. of the sugar. Beat until the mixture is fluffy and light lemon yellow in color—about 5 minutes—stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the olive oil and reduced orange juice to the egg mixture and beat to blend well.
Combine the milk, citrus zests and rosemary. Add the milk mixture and flour mixture to the egg mixture in 3 alternating additions each—beginning with the milk mixture and ending with the flour mixture—beating just to blend and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
In a separate, clean, electric mixer bowl, beat the egg whites until they begin to froth. Then, with mixer running, add the remaining ¼ c. of sugar to the bowl. Beat until medium peaks form.
Add about one third of the beaten whites to the batter, and fold in gently but thoroughly. Fold in the remaining whites gently, blending well. Be sure that there are no striations or blobs of unblended egg white in the batter. Better to slightly over-blend than under-blend in this case—those unblended whites would puff up like little patches of white soufflé in your cake!
Turn the batter out into the prepared cake pan and gently rap the pan on the work surface a couple of times to remove any air bubbles. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. While the cake is baking, make the Chantilly Cream.
Remove the cake from the oven and cool it in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a thin, sharp knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake, then invert it onto a serving platter. Gently peel off the parchment paper round. Using a pastry brush, glaze the top of the cake liberally with the orange marmalade. Allow the cake to cool completely before serving.
To serve, cut the cake into wedges. Drizzle each slice with Caramel Drizzle, allowing some to run onto the plate. Top each slice with a portion of the berries and syrup, and plop a large dollop of the Chantilly Cream over the berries. Garnish each serving with a couple of the reserved whole berries and a rosemary sprig. Enjoy!
Note: An easy way to gauge when you’ve reduced a liquid to the specified amount is to use water and a wooden spoon as a guide. Fill a pan with water equal to the amount of liquid needed after reduction. Place the handle of a clean wooden spoon on the bottom of the pan. At the top of the watermark, make a notch in the handle with a sharp paring knife and discard the water. Place the spoon handle in the reducing liquid periodically. When the liquid is level with the notch, you’ve got the specified amount!
Makes about 1¾ c.
¾ c. sugar
¹/3 c. Lyle’s Golden Syrup
¼ c. water
2 T. unsalted butter, softened
Combine the sugar and syrup in a heavy 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the water and bring to a slight simmer, then reduce the heat and cook—without stirring—for about 20-30 minutes, or until the syrup reaches a rich amber color. (If you don’t get a rich, dark color at this stage, the finished sauce will be quite pale.) Whisk in the cream carefully. (The caramel will froth and sizzle, which is why the seemingly large pan is used for the small amount of liquid.) If the caramel seizes into a giant blob, don’t panic. Just continue to whisk and it will melt. Remove from the heat and vigorously whisk in the butter. Serve hot, or refrigerate if not serving right away. Warm the caramel before serving.
2 c. chilled heavy cream
2 heaping T. chilled sour cream
2 heaping T. powdered sugar
1 T. vanilla extract
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a mixer fitted with wire whisk. Beat until the cream is slightly stiff. It should be soft enough to invitingly drape down the sides of the cake slices onto the plate.