If you know me well, then you know I love to cook. Menu planning is how I spend my Sunday mornings. And with my own upcoming wedding November, it’s got me thinking about feeding big crowds. There are so many fresh and beautiful things about spring, especially when it comes to food. Your wedding menu may already be set but the rehearsal dinner can be a good time to experiment with the bolder flavors of the season. When else can you put so much bright yellow and brilliant green on a plate?
“The essence of a thoughtful spring menu is bringing the table to life with flavorful color!” says Sherry Yard of The Tuck Room. The James Beard award-winning chef says it’s all about leaving behind those heavy winter flavors and spices like dark brown sugars, clove, allspice and orange, and replacing them with lighter stuff like ginger, star anise, crystalized honey and lemon. With that in mind, here are six spectacular springtime recipes that would work perfectly at any rehearsal gathering.
Chilled Snap Pea Soup
—1 lb. fresh snap peas
—1 shallot, minced
—1 garlic clove, minced
—1 T. butter
—1 T. kosher salt
—3 cups buttermilk
—1 cup whole milk
Instructions: Sweat the snap peas, shallot and garlic in butter over low heat until just soft. Transfer to the blender with remaining ingredients and puree. Season to taste.
Beet & Strawberry Salad with Strawberry Poppy Seed Dressing
—1 bunch medium beets red
—1 bunch medium beets yellow
—10 oz. arugula
—2 pints fresh strawberries
—3 oz. goat cheese
—1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
—2 t. granulated sugar
—6 T. cider vinegar
—1/3 cup olive oil blend
—1 T. poppy seed
—Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions: Preheat oven 425°F. Drizzle the beets with olive oil and wrap them up in aluminum foil. Roast them directly on the oven rack for about an hour. You’ll know they’re done when you can easily pierce them with a knife. Let them cool, then peel the skin and cut into chunks.
To make dressing, combine strawberries, sugar, vinegar in a blender and process until smooth, then slowly add oil to mixture. Once blended return mixture to a bowl and whisk poppy seeds into dressing, season with salt and pepper to taste.
In a large mixing bowl, add all of the chunked beets and arugula. Drizzle with enough dressing to coat. Place on serving plate or platter top with crumbled goat cheese and another drizzle of dressing.
Asparagus with Turmeric-Spiced Almonds
—1 T. grapeseed oil, plus more for pan
—1 T. agave nectar
—1/8 t. turmeric
—¼ t. sea salt
—Pinch of ground cumin
—1/3 cup sliced almonds
—1 lb. asparagus, tough stems removed and cut into 3-inch pieces
—1 T. fresh lemon juice
Instructions: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease a baking sheet with oil and set aside. In a small bowl, combine the agave, turmeric, salt and cumin. Add the almonds and stir gently to coat. Spread the almonds on the prepared baking sheet and bake until lightly golden, about 7 minutes. Set aside. Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet set over medium heat. Add the asparagus and cook, stirring frequently, until just tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer the asparagus to a serving dish. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and then the almond mixture.
Seared Ocean Trout, Hon Shimeji Mushrooms, Mashed Fava Beans & Crème Fraiche
—4 pieces 6 oz. ocean trout
—1 lb. hon shimeji mushrooms, roots removed and separated
—1 cup fava beans, peeled
—1 cup English peas, peeled
—1 shallot, minced
—2 T. parsley, chopped
—2 T. butter
—4 T. Crème fraiche
Instructions: Pulse the peas and fava beans in a food processor to create a chunky paste. Sweat down the minced shallot in a little olive oil over low heat. Add the pea/fava bean mixture to the shallot and warm through. If needed, add a splash of water to keep moist. Season with salt and pepper and fold in the chopped parsley. Reserve.
In a heavy bottom sauté pan over high heat, add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Season the fish with salt and pepper and sear flesh side down for about 2 minutes. Lower heat to medium and let fish cook through for 2-3 more minutes, depending on desired temperature. While fish is cooking heat another sauté pan over medium heat and sauté the mushroom with a little butter until tender.
To present the dish, put a spoon of the pea/fava bean mixture in the center of a plate, add a little mushroom on the side of the peas, with the fish on top. Garnish with the crème fraiche and a few pea shots.
—1 3/4 c. flour
—1/2 t. salt
—1 T. sugar
—8 T. butter
—8 T. butter
—1 1/2 c. sugar
—1/8 t. salt
Instructions: Measure 1/2 cup of ice water and set aside. In two small bowls, separate an egg into whites and yolks; set aside yolk, and save white for another culinary adventure. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. With your hands, work in cubes of cold butter until consistency resembles coarse sand (5 to 10 minutes). Mix the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of ice water; incorporate into the dough. Press dough into a ball, ensuring even consistency; add more water if dough is too dry, but do not let it get sticky. Wrap in plastic film and chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes before using.
Make filling. Using a vegetable peeler or zester, remove the rind of the lemons, avoiding the white pith. Mince rind so that the pieces resemble tiny beads. Squeeze the lemons to make 1/2 cup of juice and set the juice aside. In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to cream butter and sugar (for filling) with lemon rind. Add 4 remaining whole eggs, one at a time; add lemon juice and salt. Mix until combined. Pour the mixture into a large saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10-15 minutes. The lemon curd will thicken at about 175°F degrees, or just below a simmer. To test for doneness, coat the back of a wooden spoon with the curd, and run a finger through it. If the part you’ve created stays put, your curd is done. Remove from the heat and let cool.
Flour a work surface covered in parchment paper, and preheat oven to 400°F. Take chilled dough out of the fridge and roll out on floured surface using a rolling pin. Roll out dough until it is one inch larger than tart pan. Press dough into the tart pan, covering the whole surface and trimming edges. Using a fork, prick the dough to make holes for air to escape. Place parchment paper and baking beans on top of the tart shell and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until light golden. Remove from oven, gently remove beans and paper, and let cool completely. Fill the tart shell with lukewarm lemon curd and smooth over with a spoon or spatula. Allow to set at room temperature. Chill if not serving right away.