A Cook’s Celebration of Spring
Although early-morning hours are still quite chilly when I hurry out the door to start my day, spring is definitely in the air. I know it from the fliers announcing the first day of our local farmer’s market and by the fresh asparagus served at a recent dinner party, where the chef proudly beamed, “The first of the season!”
In many cultures around the world, spring means lamb. There are many different processes for cooking the celebratory lamb – Italy has a slow-roast process, which makes the meat exquisitely tender. Greece’s rotisserie-style process uses a special elongated grill over coals that accommodates a whole spitted animal and is raised and lowered as the heat rises and falls. Argentina uses a custom-made stake with cross bars that can accommodate a butterflied animal over a hardwood fire. The stake is driven into the ground and leans towards or away from the fire as the heat rises and lowers.
For my spring menu, I chose an indirect grilling method on my home barbecue grill, so you can prepare the recipe for your family and friends. This technique not only delivers a delicious leg of lamb, it also allows you to be outdoors enjoying the sweet air and warm temperature of a fine spring day.
—Chef Rey Hernandez,
Co-Founder and VP, Epicurean Group
Chilled Farley Farms Cucumber, Yogurt and Mint Soup
4 large seedless cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise and seeded
1/2 cup mint leaves, washed and drained
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
3 cups plain yogurt
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
Kosher salt and Sriracha sauce
Place cucumbers, mint, garlic and stock in a blender and puree until smooth. Transfer to a large non-reactive bowl, add yogurt, olive oil and vinegar and mix until incorporated. Season with kosher salt and Sriracha to taste. Chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Ladle soup into 8 bowls. Serve immediately.
Link to recipe: Chilled Farley Farms Cucumber, Yogurt and Mint Soup
Amaranth Greens with Zucchini, Burnt Loo Loo Farms Ricotta Salata and Yellow Tomatoes
2 large zucchini
Zest from 1 lemon
Juice from 2 lemons
4 tablespoons shaved Parmesan
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
12 basil leaves, washed and coarsely chopped
12 mint leaves, washed and coarsely chopped
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Trim the zucchini and slice them lengthwise on the julienne blade of the mandolin. Cut down until you just see the seeds in the center. Rotate the zucchini and continue the process. Lay the zucchini ‘spaghetti’ in a non-reactive bowl and add the lemon zest, lemon juice, Parmesan, olive oil, basil and mint. Season with salt and pepper and toss until well coated. Set aside until ready to serve.
For the Ricotta Salata and Yellow Tomatoes:
10 ounces Ricotta Salata cheese
1 pound of yellow pear tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and crushed red pepper flakes
Heat a griddle over hot coals or a cast iron pan on the stove over high heat. Place the cheese on the griddle and char for 5-10 seconds. As soon as it starts to char, use a metal spatula to remove from the pan and place in a non-reactive bowl.
Brush a thin coat of olive oil over the pan and place the tomatoes, cut side down. Do this in batches so as to not overcrowd the pan. As the edges start to char, use the spatula and remove them from the pan. Place them on a plate with the char side up so that they cool. Once cool, add them to the bowl with the cheese. Add the olive oil, salt and red pepper flakes and toss until well coated. Set aside until ready to serve.
For the Greens:
4 cups Amaranth greens, washed and drained
3 ounces extra virgin olive oil
1 ounce rice wine vinegar
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Place greens in a salad bowl and add salt and pepper. Add oil and vinegar and toss to coat.
Place the Amaranth on each of 8 plates, top with the zucchini and then with the Ricotta Salata and tomatoes. Serve immediately.
*Epicurean TipThis Mandoline Is Tuned to “Be Sharp”
There is a wide variety of mandoline slicers on the market for home or commercial use. It is an invaluable tool and produces thin, even slices. Some come with different blades for julienne, baton or wavy cut (you can make waffle slices with the wavy cut, first go in one direction while slicing then rotate slightly to get a criss-cross cut). These tools are extremelysharp and must be used with the holder provided or a “cut glove” to prevent injury.
Grilled Butterflied Silver Star Farm Leg of Lamb, Grilled Polenta and Kohlrabi Slaw
For the Polenta:
3 cups milk
3 cups vegetable stock
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
2 cups, coarse ground polenta
4 ounces butter
1/2 cup fresh oregano, coarsely chopped
Place the milk, vegetable stock, olive oil, salt, pepper and polenta in a sauce pot. Bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Lower the heat to a slow boil and cook while stirring until the polenta thickens, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the butter and oregano. Stir until well incorporated and pour into a non-reactive 8” x 12” baking pan. Spread evenly and let cool until firm. Cut into 8 rectangles and then cut the rectangles in half to form triangles.
Heat a griddle over high heat until drops of water sizzle on the surface. Brush with olive oil and place the triangles on. Cook for about 3 minutes on each side or until nicely browned. Arrange on a platter and keep warm until ready to serve.
For the Kohlrabi Slaw:
4 medium kohlrabi, washed, peeled and cut into julienne* matchsticks on the mandolin.
2 Granny Smith apples, washed, peeled and cut into julienne matchsticks on the mandolin.
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, washed, drained and coarsely chopped
Place all ingredients in a non-reactive* bowl and toss together until well incorporated. Set aside until ready to serve.
For the Leg of Lamb:
4-pound boneless leg of lamb, butterflied and pounded to an even thickness
1/2 cup mint leaves washed, drained and coarsely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, halved with seeds removed, coarsely chopped
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled
6 garlic cloves, peeled
4 tablespoons apricot jam
2 tablespoons tamari
1/4 cup dry sherry
Place all marinade ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Place lamb in a Pyrex baking dish and pour the marinade over. Flip the lamb a few times to be sure that it is well coated. Cover with plastic and place in the refrigerator. Flip the lamb in platter every 2 hours and leave overnight.
Prepare a charcoal grill* for indirect cooking. Place all the coals on one side of the grill with a pan of water on the other side. Remove the lamb from the marinade and towel dry. Reserve the marinade. Lightly oil the grate over the coals and place the lamb on the grill directly over the coals. Brown on each side for 5 to 6 minutes on each side. Then move the lamb to the side of the grill opposite of the coals. Brush the lamb with the marinade. Place the cover on the grill with the open vent over the lamb. Cook for 20 to 40 minutes to desired doneness, basting every 10 minutes. An internal temperature of 125 degrees will give you a medium-rare product. Once cooked, remove from the grill and place on a carving board. Let rest for 15 minutes before slicing. Arrange the slices on a platter and use the juices from the carving board and platter as a sauce.
*Epicurean TipJulienned Vegetables
Julienne is an attractive way to prepare vegetables for a special meal. Also called a “matchstick” cut, a julienne is 1/8 x 1/8 x 2-3 inches in length. To prepare a julienne, trim the ends and sides of the vegetable to make a rectangular shape, then make uniform-size cuts at 1/8 inch intervals. Trim the julienne to the desired length and compost the remaining small ends, or use them for stock.
*Epicurean TipNon-reactive Pans
Non-reactive cookware will not react to acid ingredients, such as citrus. When a recipe calls for a non-reactive pot, pan or bowl, use stainless steel, clay, enamel, glass, or plastic.
*Epicurean TipLight Your (Grill) Fire!
Avoid using lighter fluid to start your coals; it could add an unwanted taste to anything you grill. Better options:
- Use a Chimney. This tool takes some practice, but once you figure how many sheets of old newspaper it takes to get your charcoals started, it is very efficient.
- Use an electric starter. Several types are available – one type uses an electronically heated coil that you place in your grill and cover with charcoal. Another type, which resembles a hair drier, uses electronically heated coils and a fan that blows an airstream heated to 1256 degrees Fahrenheit to fire up your coals. Another similar lighter incorporates batteries and butane to create a 2600 degree Fahrenheit airstream.
- Use a propane starter. Smoker-cooker gurus are using propane fire starters that can deliver 3000 degree Fahrenheit flames to get their coals going. This tool is for those who just can’t wait to start grilling or smoking!
Port Poached Otto Farm Cherries with Brioche and Clover Dairy Crème
For the Brioche:
1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoon) active dry yeast
1/4 cup half-and-half warmed to 98 degrees
1/2 teaspoon plus 1/4 cup evaporated cane juice
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
5 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature plus 4 ounces melted
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine the yeast, half-and-half and 1/2 teaspoon evaporated cane juice in the bowl of a stand mixer, mix well and let stand until bubbles form on the surface. Add the flour, salt, eggs and beat with the paddle for 3 minutes at medium speed. Add 5 ounces of butter and mix until just incorporated. Cover the bowl with plastic and let rise in a warm, draft-free space until doubled in bulk – about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Punch down the dough gently. Butter a cookie sheet and spread the dough onto it, making a 12 x 15 inch rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Brush the top with the melted butter and sprinkle with the 1/4 cup of cane juice. Place in the center rack of the oven and bake for 20 minutes until evenly golden brown.
For the Cherries:
1 pound cherries, washed, drained and pitted*
1 cup boiling water
1 1/2 cups port wine
1 teaspoon potato starch** dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water
Place the cherries in a non-reactive bowl and pour the boiling water and 1 cup port over them. Cover the bowl with plastic and let steep for 2 hours.
Drain the juice and pour into a sauce pan. Add the potato starch water mixture and bring to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature and add the remaining 1/2 cup port.
For the Crème:
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup sour cream
Whip the cream to soft peaks then fold in the sour cream.
To serve, cut the brioche into 8 portions, place on dessert plates and top with the poached cherries and crème.
*Epicurean TipIt’s the Pits!
There are three ways to pit a cherry. Most often, I use a sharp paring knife to cut the cherry in half and then remove the seed. This keeps the cherry more aesthetic in appearance, which is important in some presentations. When presentation is not a concern – say for compotes, stewed fruit or pie – I use the garlic-crushing method. I lay the cherry on my cutting board, place the widest part of my French knife on it and smash down with my free hand. Lastly, there is always the cherry pitter. This can be purchased at all cooking supply stores. It is efficient and leaves the cherry intact for presentation.
*Epicurean TipThe Pot Thickens
I prefer to use potato starch or arrowroot to thicken sauces, like the glaze for the poached cherries. I bring the liquid to a boil while I mix the thickener with cold liquid (water, wine, stock, marinade, etc.) Once the boiling stops, I stir in the thickener, raise the heat and whisk until it comes back to a boil. This technique prevents lumping.