Sunshine: 87 degrees worth this past weekend, to be exact, triggering that desperate need for shoes that are not boots and a few new dresses free of olive oil stains. Yes, these are the signs, here in Mid-Atlantic Wonderland Kitchen, that we have finally shut the door and thrown the deadbolt on the chilly months and plunged into the humid swamp that will keep us cooking well into October.
Even more than all that, however, it was the scent coming from the bag of dill, cilantro, and basil that I had picked up at one of my favorite market stands that got me excited about the possibilities of the…new year? Yes, this time has always felt like much more of a beginning than that celebrated calendar change buried in a case of snow and ice. Trailing the smell of fresh herbs with every step, home I came with enough feeling of prospect that I snapped the first petite “market haul” pic of 2012:
See that cloth bag up there at right? My regular sister-in-produce Marie gifted me a few of those snazzy sacks sewn as part of a great initiative here in Baltimore, and I am hooked. You can learn more about the project here.
Once all these fine bits of produce were unloaded onto my counter top, my favorite game of “suss out the magic formula” began, during which I wracked my brain, my bookcase, and the internet for the perfect use of the assembled raw ingredients. This week’s winners?
First off, the inaugural canning project of the season was successfully completed: Rhubarb Chutney. Thanks to a lovely, small-batch recipe I discovered through Food52, the exercise proceeded without a hitch. It’s sweet and tart and cries out to be smeared on grilled cheese sandwiches, served with fancy crackers and goat cheese, and probably tastes lovely with roasted fowl, if you’re into that sort of thing. Honestly, the only real usage challenge I anticipate will be to keep from eating all this newly jarred deliciousness immediately.
I also snuck a few more flats of Mason jars and a gallon of apple cider vinegar into the house over the weekend, so this preservation adventure has only just begun!!
Ahem. Okay, back to the food at hand.
Spring Radish, Asparagus, and Potato Salad
1 1/2 lbs baby red potatoes, cut into 1″ pieces
1 bunch asparagus, tough ends removed and lower stalks peeled if necessary
1 bunch mild radishes, quartered
For the dressing
1 cup strained yogurt (I happen to have a lot of this on hand because I love its sour cream-like consistency and because I’ve been using the whey in fermentation projects. It’s easy if you have one of these. However, any thick yogurt will do.)
1-2 spring onions, finely sliced
2 tsp. chopped dill
salt and pepper to taste
sunflower seeds to garnish (optional)
Boil potatoes just until fork tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside to cool.
Blanch asparagus for 2 minutes, or just until tender crisp. Immediately plunge into an ice bath. When cool, slice into 2″ pieces.
Place the potatoes, asparagus, and radishes in a large bowl and set aside while you prepare the dressing. Combine yogurt, onion, dill, salt, and pepper and spoon dressing over the vegetables. Toss to coat. Adjust seasoning and chill. Garnish with sunflower seeds before serving if desired.
Cream of Celery Soup
adapted from Twelve Months of Monastery Soups
I often find soups too heavy to start a meal with, especially in the warm months, but this one is truly light and appetizing. It works well served both hot and chilled.
4 cups celery, diced
3 shallots, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 white boiling potatoes, cubed
6 cups water
1 1/2 cups milk
2 T corn starch
2 T butter
scratch of nutmeg
1 T chopped dill
salt and pepper to taste
Place celery, shallots, garlic, and water in a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the white sauce. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Dissolve the cornstarch in 1/2 cup of the milk and, when the butter begins to bubble, add this mixture and stir for several seconds. Add the remaining milk, salt, pepper, and the nutmeg, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and continue cooking, stirring often, until the sauce has thickened. Reserve.
When the simmering time is complete, puree the soup and return it to the pot. Add the white sauce and the dill, and adjust the seasonings as needed. Enjoy hot or cold!