Light fare for Spring

The tips of fresh asparagus should be dry and tight. If they look feathery or open, although they are still usable, they have passed their prime.

March 22, 2007 | | Back Issues | Departments | Food | Spring 2007 | The Country Cook

Light fare for Spring. Illustration by Shelagh Armstrong

In Ontario, tender shoots of asparagus are the true heralds of spring. This noble vegetable is a member of the lily family. The tips of fresh asparagus should be dry and tight. If they look feathery or open, although they are still usable, they have passed their prime. Rather than discarding the tough bottoms you break off, we suggest saving them to use in a stock.

Our main course of asparagus and salmon could also be served in small portions as an appetizer, and when fresh local mushrooms are available, a layer of these could be added to accompany the spinach.

We precede the main course with a watercress and sorrel soup. If you are fortunate enough to have a stream on your property you may find watercress, a member of the mustard family, growing there. Its peppery flavour makes a delicious addition to soups or sandwiches, and the delicate rounded leaves are an attractive garnish. Sorrel has leaves that are similar in shape to those of spinach. Its peak season is the spring when it is at its mildest.

The cookie wafers for our light dessert can be prepared up to seven days ahead of time and stored in an airtight container. Because late spring is the season for strawberries, we have featured them in this dessert; however, raspberries, peaches and blueberries work just as well.

Asparagus & Salmon

  • 1 package puff pastry
  • 3 bunches fresh spinach
  • 3 tbsp | 45 ml unsalted butter
  • salt and pepper
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 32 green asparagus stalks
  • olive oil to brush asparagus
  • 1-1/2 lb | 650 g boneless salmon fillet
  • small bunch chives

Glaze

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 tsp | 1/4 ml salt

Hollandaise Sauce

  • 2 eggs yolks
  • 3/4 c | 186 ml butter,
  • cut into 1-inch cubes
  • salt, pepper, nutmeg
  • lemon juice, freshly squeezed

Hollandaise sauce: Set a small metal bowl over a small pot of simmering water. Add the egg yolks and whisk in the butter a few cubes at a time, stirring constantly as mixture thickens. Add salt, pepper, a pinch of nutmeg and a squeeze of lemon. Remove from heat.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Roll out puff pastry to 1/8-inch thick on a lightly floured work surface. Cut into six rectangles, 4 by 2-1/2 inches. Whisk egg yolks and salt in a small bowl. Place the pastry rectangles on a parchment-lined baking sheet and carefully brush them with the glaze. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until puffed and golden. Set aside.

Cut four even portions from the salmon, removing any bones. Clean spinach and remove stems. Drain well and chop coarsely. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, and over medium-high heat add the spinach, stirring often. Add salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Stir until the moisture has evaporated. Cover and lower heat to minimum.

Snap off the asparagus ends, and place the asparagus on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush asparagus with olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper. With the rack at the highest level, broil for approximately 8 minutes or until tender, turning once.

Melt a tablespoon of butter in a frying pan. Season both sides of the salmon with salt and pepper. Sauté until lightly cooked, about 3 minutes per side.

To serve, arrange eight stems of asparagus on each of four plates. Cut the puff pastry rectangles in half horizontally. Put the bottom half on top of the asparagus. Top with salmon and coat with Hollandaise sauce. Cover with the pastry top. Decorate with bits of chive. Serves 4.

Watercress & Sorrel Soup

  • 2 bunches watercress
  • 2 bunches sorrel
  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 2 tbsp | 30 ml butter
  • 2 c | 500 ml cream
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp | 5 ml lime juice
  • 2 tsp | 10 ml sugar
  • cream to garnish
  • blanched lime zest to garnish

Clean and stem the sorrel and watercress. In separate pots, boil watercress and sorrel for 2 minutes, or until soft. Drain and squeeze out excess water. Melt butter in one pot and cook onions until transparent. In a blender, purée onion, sorrel, watercress and cream until smooth. Return mixture to pot and gently heat. Add sugar, lime juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Garnish and serve. Serves 4.

Strawberries & Chantilly Cream

Wafers

  • 5 tbsp | 75 ml unsalted butter
  • 1 c | 250 ml icing sugar
  • 3/4 c | 186 ml cake flour
  • 1 tsp | 5 ml vanilla
  • 3 egg whites

Strawberry Coulis

  • 2 c | 500 ml fresh strawberries, hulled
  • 1/3 c | 83 ml icing sugar

Chantilly Cream

  • 2 c | 500 ml whipping cream
  • 1/4 c | 62 ml granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp | 5 ml vanilla
  • 2 c | 500 ml fresh strawberries
  • mint leaves or edible flowers

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine the butter, vanilla and sugar and beat until creamy. Beat in the flour. Whip eggs whites to a soft peak. Fold into the batter. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, place nine heaping teaspoons of batter at least three inches apart. (The batter will spread when heated.) Bake for 8–10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a rack. Repeat until all batter is used up.

In a food processor beat icing sugar and 2 cups of strawberries until smooth. Chill.

Add vanilla to the cold whipping cream in a stainless steel bowl. Add the sugar and whip to a peak.

When wafers are at room temperature, spread each with chantilly cream on a dessert plate. Top with halved strawberries. Place another wafer on top and spread with cream and top with another layer of halved strawberries. Place a final wafer on top and decorate with a tiny dollop of cream and a whole small berry. Decorate with mint or edible flowers and spoon coulis around dish. Serves 4.

About the Author More by Sandra Cranston-Corradini

Sandra Cranston-Corradini is the proprietor of the Cranston-Corradini School of Cooking.

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