Spring renewal is underway. In the kitchen, we can start to plan for Spring veggies and herbs. Artichokes, asparagus, arugula, and radishes, to name some, will soon be available locally. There is something singular about the taste of local produce, and even more exciting is a fresh vegetable, Italian style.
On a bright side note, the dean of my department at the Bucks County Community College, Lynn Dellpietra, just announced that her daughter, Julia, chose to attend Dartmouth University in the fall. She will major in the Italian Language; I’d like to dedicate this article to her.
Leafy vegetables in sautés with garlic and olive oil are a favorite in my family. The simplicity of a quick sauté is imperative to preserving the flavors. Overcooking leafy vegetables, save burning, will not ruin the veggies, but it may diminish the taste. High heat and quick is the key with greens.
Another, sturdier, leafy vegetable is cabbage. Red cabbage, especially, offers both color and flavor. Braising is most common, and red cabbage needs a bit of vinegar to help maintain color while cooking. Historically, pickling and red cabbage paired well. Shredding is best for texture, and this method allows the pickling process advance rapidly.
Brussel Sprouts made a comeback in the past few years. People seem to love or hate them. Recently, cooking Brussel sprouts in new ways brings out the best taste. Brussel sprouts do not need to be cooked, but many recipes call of stir-fry and braising. Thinly slicing the sprouts and throwing them in a stir fry make a delicious side.
Every soup and salad will taste better in the spring. Plan for meals that require fresh produce, and make time for a trip to the farmer’s market. The local markets will open soon. Signage is popping up all over for each town’s market. Patronizing local farmers will make our communities stronger. Often the farmers at the market enjoy talking with us about cooking and various uses for their crops.
Most Italian cooks will tell you to keep it seasonal; fresh is best. Grate your own garlic and parmesan . Use a variety of oils. Try something new whenever possible. Many Italian recipes are simple. Take advantage of this simplicity and try a new groove. Spring is a time of renewal for both the outdoors and our kitchens. Mangia!
Arugula and Ricotta
(Adapted from Epicurious)
(I do not use whole milk anything; Please feel free to use light ricotta and mozzarella)
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 oz. baby arugula (8 cups packed)
6 oz. whole-milk ricotta (2/3 cup)
3 oz. whole-milk mozzarella, coarsely grated
2 tablespoons finely
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1. Cook garlic in oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add arugula and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a sieve and press hard on arugula to squeeze out as much excess liquid as possible, then coarsely chop.
2. Stir together ricotta, mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, yolk, salt, and pepper until blended, then stir in arugula.
Slice Italian loaf of bread any way you choose. Top each with arugula and ricotta mixture, and bake on a cookie sheet for 20 minutes, at 350 degrees. Transfer to a serving dish. It goes well with a tomato, basil salad.
Spicy Italian Brussels Sprouts
(adapted from thetasteof.com)
1 lb. brussels sprouts, cut in quarters (or in half if they are very small)
4 slices Prosciutto di Parma, ask for slices 1/16" thick
½ tablespoon crushed Italian hot peppers
1. Toss brussels sprouts in olive oil, salt, and hot pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a sheet pan and roast at 350°F for 20 minutes. You want them roasted with some crisp still, not mushy or burned.
2. Cut the prosciutto pieces into thin strips, about ¼" wide. While the sprouts are roasting, sauté the Prosciutto di Parma strips in a skillet until they begin to get crispy.
3. Remove the brussels sprouts, add the crispy Prosciutto di Parma and toss.
4. Finish with salt and pepper.
Beth's Roasted Cauliflower With Lemon Parsley Dressing
1 Large Head of Cauliflower (About 2 Pounds), Trimmed & Cut into Florets
1/4 Cup Olive Oil, Divided
1 Cup Fresh Parsley Leaves
1 Clove Garlic, Peeled
½ Tsp. anchovy paste
1/2 Teaspoon Capers, Drained
Sea Salt & Black Pepper
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Toss the florets with 3 tablespoons olive oil, salt & pepper.
3. Spread the florets onto a foil lined baking sheets and roast, tossing occasionally, until tender and golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.
4. While the cauliflower is roasting, place the remaining olive oil, parsley, garlic, anchovy, capers, salt, pepper, and lemon juice in a blender or food processor.
5. Pulse until the mixture is finely chopped but still has texture.
6. When the cauliflower has finished roasting, toss with the dressing.
7. Spoon the cauliflower into a serving bowl, top with lemon zest and serve.