Highlighting Spring’s Fresh Ingredients

 Seasonal Cooking with Rita Calvert~The Local Cook

Highlighting Spring’s Fresh Ingredients

 Spring ingredients are in the culinary picture-front and center. I was just reading an article about chefs who are big time foraging for ramps, fiddlehead ferns, dandelions and violets. We can’t wait for those fresh ingredients after a winter of root veggies, but most of us won’t go that far. However, when the long awaited ingredients are just plucked, it’s a cinch to make dishes which are gloriously simple and flavorful.

 As an early riser of the season are asparagus, which come into play as early as April. Make the most of these bright, tender stalks with simple, savory recipes that showcase the subtle flavor and gorgeous color; they will brighten the cod and stand up to the earthiness of cremini mushrooms.

For dessert, more brilliant color in red, rhubarb and strawberries fuse in a gentle blend with the essence of rose water. Slather this compote over a rich Greek yogurt Panna Cotta called a “yogurt honey jelly” in this recipe.

 Roasted Wild Cod and Asparagus with Champagne Lemon Vinaigrette

Serves 4

You don’t see many recipes for roasting the fish with vegetables as it’s usually termed baking. Here you want the rich brown color, so place your baking rack at the very top of the oven.

Make the vinaigrette while the fish and vegetables roast. Dry white wine can be used if you are short of bubbles.

  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 4 cod fillets, skinned (1-1/2 lb.)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound asparagus, trimmed
  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, washed and halved
  • Champagne Lemon Vinaigrette

 Preheat oven to 475 degrees F.

Lightly coat 15x10x1-inch baking pan with some of the butter. On one side of pan arrange cod fillets, turning under any thin portions. Brush fish with 1 teaspoon remaining butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 5 minutes. Place asparagus and mushrooms on opposite side of pan; brush with remaining butter; sprinkle with salt and pepper.

 Bake 7 to 10 minutes more or until cod flakes easily when tested with a fork. 

 Champagne Lemon Vinaigrette

  •  1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • Zest plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup champagne
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

 Mix all ingredients for the vinaigrette in a small bowl and set aside to drizzle over fish.

Fresh Rhubarb-Strawberry Rose Compote

Makes 3 cups

Rose water imparts a Persian character to this alluring melding of spring’s first blush. The rhubarb needs to be cooked down until soft, however, the strawberries fare best when heated just for a moment.

Find rose water in Middle Eastern markets, and for the best flavor, choose Middle Eastern, French, and Italian brands over Indian ones. From your own garden, rose petals are edible if they’re pesticide-free; If you purchase them, make sure they haven’t been sprayed.

  • 8 ounces rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup  
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon rose water (optional; see Notes)
  • 1/4 cup rose petals (without pesticides)

 Combine the rhubarb, maple syrup and 3 tablespoons water in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the fruit begins to soften but still holds its shape. Stir in the strawberries and cook another minute just until warm. Add rosewater.

 Transfer to a bowl. Let cool to room temperature. 

 Note: The fruit keeps well in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

 Yogurt Honey Jelly with Fresh Rhubarb-Strawberry Rose Compote

Below is a historic recipe from Sunset Magazine’s April 1975 Russian Cream. It is very similar to what we now call Panna Cotta when of Italian origin. No matter the country, this creamy mellow base is perfect for the provocative rhubarb strawberry blanket tinged with  roses.

 Notes: A 6-in. cake pan can be used for the mold, but or anything from a plain metal mixing bowl to a fancy crenellated pudding bowl. Or pour the yogurt into small bowls to make individual servings. 

  •  1 envelope (1/4 oz.) powdered gelatin
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 tablespoons honey, or to taste
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt 

 Put gelatin and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and let soften for a few minutes. Meanwhile, pour cream and vanilla into a medium bowl and use an electric mixer to whip the mixture into soft peaks.

 Heat gelatin mixture gently over low heat until gelatin dissolves completely. Stir in honey and salt; remove from heat.

 Whisk yogurt in a medium bowl. Whisk some yogurt into gelatin-honey mixture; then whisk that mixture into rest of yogurt. Fold whipped cream into yogurt mixture and pour into a 6-in. cake pan. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until set, at least 1 hour.

 Top with strawberry rhubarb compote and rose petals.