Chef John Ash shares 12 of his favorite springtime recipes
According to Robin Williams, spring is nature's way of saying, “Let's party!”
Everything bounces back to life. It is nature’s rebirth, and special ingredients we haven’t seen for a while become available again.
Here are a few of my favorite harbingers of spring.
Asparagus is special to me. I have fond memories of wild asparagus from my time growing up on my grandparents’ ranch in Colorado. The ranch was at about 8,000 feet elevation, and winters were harsh at that altitude.
Wild asparagus popping up, usually in early to mid-April, was a sure sign the weather finally was going to warm and summer was on the horizon. My grandmother and I would pick the wild asparagus and eat much of it raw, right on the spot. If you have never eaten just-picked asparagus, raw or cooked, it has a delicious sweet, green flavor. Just make sure it’s as close to harvest as possible. Its sweet flavor fades quickly after harvest.
Grilled Asparagus Salad with Pancetta and Egg
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons grainy Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey, or to taste
1 teaspoon finely chopped shallot
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound medium asparagus, tough base trimmed and discarded
6 ounces pancetta, cut ¼ inch thick and diced
Spring salad (see below)
3 soft-center hard-boiled eggs (see recipe below)
Freshly shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano
In a small bowl, whisk 3 tablespoons of the olive oil with the lemon juice, mustard, honey and shallot. Season to your taste with salt and pepper. Set vinaigrette aside.
Brush the asparagus with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. On a hot grill or with a ridged grill pan, cook the asparagus until nicely marked but still crisp-tender, about 4 minutes, depending on thickness. Set aside.
Over medium heat, add the pancetta to a sauté pan with remaining tablespoon of oil and cook until nicely browned, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
Toss the herb salad with the vinaigrette. Arrange asparagus on plates topped with the dressed herb salad, pancetta, half an egg and some shaved cheese. Season lightly with salt and pepper and serve.
Spring salad: A salad of baby greens, endive and sweet herbs is delicate and needs to be dressed just before serving. Use whatever you like. Here is a suggestion: three handfuls of baby lettuces, one small endive, one small handful frisée, young nasturtium leaves, parsley, mint and basil (all small or torn), plus a few celery leaves from the center of a bunch.
Soft-center hard-boiled eggs: Lower three large organic eggs into a small saucepan of boiling water. Simmer for exactly 8 minutes. Remove eggs and plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. When the eggs are cool, tap the shells to crack them. This allows the cold water to seep between the eggs and shells making them easy to peel. Cut in half. If you like a softer yolk, cut cooking time by 30 seconds.
Artichokes are a member of the thistle family, and their season is spring into summer. “Baby” artichokes are not a different variety from regular artichokes. It’s just a smaller but fully mature version of the traditional artichoke. Its small size is the result of being picked from the lower part of the plant. We love them because you can eat the whole thing raw or cooked after trimming. They are easy to prepare and don’t have that fuzzy, inedible choke in the center.
This batter and technique also makes the best onion rings. Use any variety of sweet white onions in the market, cut into ½-inch rings.
Crispy Fried Baby Artichokes
12 baby artichokes
Vegetable oil, such as canola, for frying
Batter (recipe below)
Discard the outer leaves of the artichokes until you reach the pale green centers. Cut off the base, if it’s still there, and the top ¼ inch or so of each and discard. Cut the artichokes in half and drop in the batter to coat.
Heat an inch or 2 of vegetable oil in a deep saucepan or fryer to 360 degrees. Briefly drain half the artichokes and carefully slide them into the hot oil and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels and cook the remaining artichokes the same way. Sprinkle on a little seasoned salt and serve warm with lemon wedges to squeeze over.
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup cornstarch
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup cold water
½ cup vodka (see note below)
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, cornstarch, baking soda and baking powder.
In a separate bowl, stir the water and vodka together. Slowly pour the liquid mixture into the flour mixture, gently stirring to combine. It should be the consistency of pancake batter. Add more water or equal parts flour and cornstarch as needed.