The Village Greens

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The Village Greens

By Debra Samuels

Globe correspondent APRIL 02, 2013

By April, weary New Englanders are looking for anything to poke through the thawing ground. It is often a crocus, welcomed like an old friend.

To help lift our culinary spirits, we asked you to peek into your recipe collections for favorite dishes featuring spring greens. For The Recipe Box Project, in which readers share recipes with each other, we were looking for specialties made with asparagus, Swiss chard, watercress, spinach, mint, and other greens. From the pale green of asparagus soup, sent in by Hadley resident Pam Juengling, who calls the spears “Hadley grass,” to the dark green and golden custard in a crustless Swiss chard pie from Jane Woodes of Wellfleet, our kitchen was filled with fine fare.

Jane Ward of Amesbury sent in a risotto she makes with fresh peas from her Community Supported Agriculture share (we used frozen for now). She folds in a bright puree of peas and scallions, another vegetable that heralds the new season, into creamy arborio rice. Winchester resident Kinzie Moore Gensler writes that her favorite spring dish is jade rice made by adding a puree of basil, mint, cilantro, and spinach to ginger-scented long-grain rice.

Often the first shoots in the garden are herbs. “We can’t wait for the fresh mint,” writes Lee Appel of Rye, N.H., who makes a tangy yogurt and cucumber salad with refreshing spearmint. Crisp, peppery watercress is often tossed with lettuces to punch up a salad. Chie Ehara, an Arlington resident and Japanese expat, stirs a bunch into a velvety shrimp soup.

In New England, we’re forced to use the expression “spring greens” loosely. Some don’t come in until it’s almost summer. But these dishes are a painter’s bright palette. Which for now, is uplifting.

This article is another in our Boston Globe series, The Recipe Box, where readers send in their favorite recipes.

RECIPES

Asparagus soup and Jade rice. Delicious!

Asparagus soup and Jade rice. Delicious!

Asparagus Soup

Serves 6
Hadley is known for native asparagus (called Hadley grass), celebrated every spring by the local churches and civic groups that offer asparagus suppers, writes reader Pam Juengling. She says, “I developed this soup based on various recipes and versions I’ve tasted.” Although it takes a bit of extra time, before cutting the stalks, use a vegetable peeler to trim the woodier ends.

2 bunches fresh asparagus
1½ cups chicken stock
2 stalks celery, diced
5 scallions, cut into 1-inch lengths
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup whole milk
1. Trim the asparagus ends and cut the stalks into 1-inch pieces.

2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the chicken stock, celery, and scallions. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

3. Add the asparagus, Worcestershire sauce, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Continue cooking for 5 minutes or until the asparagus are almost tender.

4. Add the milk and reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue cooking for a few minutes or until the milk is just heated through.

5. Using a slotted spoon remove ⅓ of the asparagus and set aside. In a blender, puree the remaining mixture in batches until smooth. Return to the pan. Reheat just until hot. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if you like.

6. Coarsely chop the remaining asparagus. Divide it among 6 bowls. Ladle the soup on top. Adapted from Pam Juengling

Jade rice

Serves 4

In this unusual dish, aromatic basmati or jasmine rice is combined with an emerald green puree made with basil, cilantro, spinach, and mint. Winchester resident Kinzie Moore Gensler sent us this recipe, which she adapted from “Fusion Food Cookbook,” by Hugh Carpenter and Teri Sandison. Gensler writes, “I have been making this for over 15 years. Paired with salmon, this makes a bright cheery dish. The sauce alone is delicious on grilled fish or chicken. I make several batches and freeze in ice cube trays for later use.”

RICE

1½ cups long-grain basmati orjasmine rice
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 piece (1 inch) fresh ginger, grated (to make 1 tablespoon)
2¼ cups chicken stock
1. Place rice in a colander. Rinse it with cold water for about 1 minute until the rinse water is no longer cloudy. Drain thoroughly; set aside.

2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes more.

3. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, set the cover on askew, and simmer for 20 minutes or until all of the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat. Set the lid firmly on the pan and let steam for 10 minutes.

Sauce

1 cup firmly packedspinach leaves
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
12 fresh basil leaves
2 scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths
2 tablespoons sherry orwhite wine
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon Asian chili sauce (sambal oelek)
½ teaspoon salt
Extra fresh mint, cilantro, and basil leaves (for garnish)
1. In a blender, combine the spinach, mint, cilantro, basil, scallions, sherry or white wine, vinegar, sesame oil, soy and hoisin sauces, sugar, chili sauce, and salt. Puree until the mixture is smooth.

2. Fold the sauce into the rice with the whole mint, cilantro, and basil leaves. Adapted from Kinzie Moore Gensler and “Fusion Food Cookbook”

Risotto with fresh peas and scallion puree

Serves 4

“I just love fresh peas and I know it’s finally spring when I get peas in my CSA share,” writes Jane Ward of Amesbury. Ward got creative when she had too few peas to make either a soup or a side dish. “I also had a bunch of scallions in front of me,” she says, “and the vibrant green colors inspired me. I thought of the bright magenta of creamy beet risottos and figured I could do something similar with the peas and scallion tops.” After stirring her risotto, she adds the puree with freshly grated Parmesan. For a polka dot effect, fold in some of the tender green orbs right at the end.

PUREE

Salt, to taste
1½ cups fresh or frozen peas
1 bunch scallions, tops cut into 2-inch pieces
1. Fill a bowl with water and ice cubes; refrigerate.

2. Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the peas. Cook the fresh peas for 4 minutes, the frozen for1 minute. Add the scallions to the water and cook for60 seconds more.

3. Drain the vegetables into a colander, rinse with cold water, and tip the vegetables into the ice water. Leaveuntil they are cold. Remove 4 ice cubes. Drain again.Remove about ½ cup of peas; set aside.

4. In a blender, puree the vegetables with 4 ice cubesuntil smooth. If the vegetables are slow to process, adda few drops of cold water. Transfer to a bowl; cover andrefrigerate.

RISOTTO

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock, plus up to2 cups more if necessary
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1¼ cups short-grain white rice (such as Arborio)
⅓ cup white wine
½ cup grated Parmesan
1. In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the stock until it begins to simmer. Reduce the heat to low. Keep the saucepan on a back burner.

2. In another larger saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil. When it is hot, add the butter. Cook the onion, salt, and pepper, stirring often, for 8 minutes.

3. Add the rice and stir until well coated. Add the wine and stir constantly until the wine is almost completely absorbed by the rice.

4. Add a ladle of the hot stock and cook, stirring constantly until the liquid is almost completely absorbed. Add another ladleful of hot stock and stir constantly until the liquid is almost absorbed. Add more stock in this way, a ladleful at a time, until you have added 4 cups. This will take about 25 to 30 minutes. Check for doneness after 25 minutes. The rice should have a softer bite on the outside with a slightly firm core. The risotto should be thick, creamy, and slightly soupy, with a nice gloss. Add more stock, if necessary, a ladle at a time.

5. Fold in the pea-scallion puree and heat the rice through, cooking another minute. Remove the pan from the heat. Fold in the reserved peas and Parmesan. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if you like. Adapted from Jane Ward

Crustless Swiss chard pie

Makes one 8-inch square or round

Both rainbow chard, with its colorful stems, or the more traditional white-stemmed chard are great for this crustless pie sent in by Jeanne M. Woodes of Wellfleet. The soft, eggy quiche-like custard bakes with the dark green leaves, which are scented with fresh thyme and covered with Parmesan. “Cut into squares for appetizers or wedges for pie,” says Woodes. Chard can be sandy. Rinse the leaves well in a deep bowl of cold water.

Butter (for the dish)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 bunches Swiss chard, stemmed, leaves coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 eggs
1 cup whole milk
¼ cup flour
Pinch of ground nutmeg
3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
½ cup grated Parmesan
1. Set the oven at 375 degrees. Butter a deep 8-inch round or square baking dish.

2. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for 8 minutes. Add the Swiss chard. With tongs, toss the greens and onions until well mixed. Add salt and cayenne pepper. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, or until the chard is wilted.

3. In a blender, combine the eggs, milk, flour, nutmeg, and a pinch of salt. Blend until smooth, scraping down the sides of the container.

4. With tongs, remove the chard from the skillet, leaving any liquid in the pan. Spread the greens evenly in the baking dish. Sprinkle with thyme. Pour the egg mixture over the greens. With a spatula, move the greens around to make sure the batter is completely incorporated into the mixture. Sprinkle cheese on top.

5. Bake for 40 minutes or until the pie is set in the center. Let it settle for 5 minutes. Cut into small pieces to serve as an appetizer, or wedges to serve as a brunch or side dish. Adapted from Jeanne M. Woodes

Cucumber salad with mint and yogurt

Serves 4

Cucumbers, yogurt, and herbs form the basis of many Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and East Indian salads. Lee Appel, a member of the Northeast Seacoast Unit of the Herb Society of America and who lives in Rye, N.H., sent us this dish, which is her husband Leo’s favorite salad. She writes, “We can’t wait for the fresh mint in my herb garden in the spring.”

2 English cucumbers, trimmed
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup plain low-fat or whole-milk yogurt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons wine vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
½ bunch fresh mint, leaves removed from stems
1. Slice the cucumbers thinly. On a baking sheet lined with paper towels, lay the slices. Sprinkle with salt; refrigerate uncovered for 1 hour. Remove the cucumbers from the refrigerator. Pat dry and set aside.

2. In a bowl, whisk the yogurt, oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper.Chop half the mint and stir it into the yogurt mixture. Add the cucumbers and whole mint leaves. Stir gently.Cover and refrigerate for several hours. Adapted from Lee Appel

Watercress and shrimp soup

Serves 4

Velvety pink shrimp float among sprigs of peppery watercress in a light chicken stock. Chie Ehara, a Japanese expat who now resides in Arlington, sent us this Asian-style soup. “I try to show the beautiful green colors in the dishes I make so that we can feel spring from the food. In Japanese culture, we eat with our eyes and feel the season.”

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon rice wine or white wine
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 piece (2 inches) fresh ginger, smashed and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 scallions, finely chopped
3 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce, or moreto taste
1 bunch fresh watercress, stemmed, leafy ends cut in half
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with ¼ cup cold water
Grated rind of ½ lemon (forgarnish)
1. In a bowl combine the shrimp and rice wine or white wine; set aside for 15 minutes.

2. In a wok or deep saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil for 30 seconds. Add the ginger, garlic, scallions, and shrimp. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes or until the shrimp start to turn pink (they will not be cooked through). Remove the mixture from the pan.

3. Pour in the chicken stock and soy sauce. Bring to a boil. Add the watercress, salt, and pepper. Return the shrimp and seasonings to the pan.

4. Reduce the heat to medium-low. With a spoon, stir the cornstarch and water mixture. Pour it into the hot soup in a circular motion. Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the soup thickens. Taste for seasoning; add more salt, pepper, or soy sauce, if you like. Ladle into 4 bowls; sprinkle with lemon rind.  Adapted from Chie Ehara

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