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Springtime Dishes

Two stalks of rhubarb with slices of rhubarb behind them.
Rhubarb / Photo by JLS Photography - Alaska via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

My recent visits to the farmers market have been very cheery affairs. There is such an abundance of springtime food that menu planning has been a pleasure. Chef Jerry Pellegrino is likewise motivated since spring does offer a great assortment of food, and fixing seasonal meals is a breeze.

Let's start with asparagus, the queen of the spring garden. I dug up a recipe for asparagus salad that is complete enough to be a full meal. It combines cooked asparagus with sautéed tomato quarters, julienned red peppers and slices of onion.

You dress the salad with a sauce of cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and brown sugar. Then you finish with a sprinkling of toasted sliced almonds and crumbled blue cheese. Serve it warm or at room temperature. Springtime on a plate.

Warm Asparagus Salad

Ingredients

1/2 pounds fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces

2 small tomatoes, cut into wedges

1/2 red bell pepper, slice into julienne strips

1/2 medium yellow pepper, cut into thin slices, then cut in half

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon grated onion

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted

1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese

Directions

1. In a large saucepan, bring 1 cup water to a boil. Add asparagus; cook, covered, until crisp-tender, 3-5 minutes. Drain; place in a large bowl. Add tomatoes; cover and keep warm.

2. Place vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, onion, salt and paprika in a blender; cover and process until smooth. While processing, gradually add oil in a steady stream. Toss with asparagus mixture. Top with almonds and crumbled blue cheese.

Carrots are making an appearance these days, and it doesn't take a whole lot of searching to turn up an entire rainbow of colors. This next recipe plays on the striking visuals of multi-hued carrots. You simply peel them and slice them on the diagonal. Cook them in boiling water until tender, drain and then coat them with this easy sauce. Just mix melted butter, orange juice, brown sugar, orange zest and spices and you have a tasty springtime side dish.

Rainbow Carrots

Ingredients

2 pounds medium rainbow or regular carrots, diagonally sliced

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest

2 tablespoons orange juice

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Directions

1. Place carrots and enough water to cover in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cook, uncovered, until tender, 8-10 minutes. Drain; return to pan.

2. Add remaining ingredients. Cook over medium-high heat until carrots are glazed, 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Two vegetables that are sure to pop up at the spring market are spinach and rhubarb. If you haven't tried rhubarb, do yourself a favor and take a bite. Fresh, raw rhubarb has a clean, lemony citrus flavor, but it is quite tart. Baby spinach is quite mild, and has subtle sweet/earthy flavors. If you cut up your rhubarb and gently sauté it in butter, you can toss in a little honey that will cut the tartness. Throw your softened, honeyed rhubarb and your raw spinach in a bowl with bits of spring onion, broken walnuts, feta cheese and above all a healthy helping of mandarin orange slices. Dress with a simple vinaigrette.

Spinach Rhubarb Salad

Ingredients

butter for sautéing

2 stalks of fresh rhubarb, cut into 1" diagonal slices

2 tbs honey

2 cups fresh baby spinach

2 stalks of spring onion, cut into 1" diagonal slices

1/4 cup broken walnuts

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/2 cup mandarin oranges or tangerine sections

Directions

1. Place butter in a skillet and melt over medium heat. Add the cut up rhubarb, and shake it in the skillet to cover with butter. Pour honey over the rhubarb and cook until tender, stirring often.

2. Place the baby spinach and the spring onions in a large salad bowl and mix well.

Toss in the rhubarb and mix.

3. Toss in the walnuts, feta cheese and mandarin orange slices, and toss with a vinaigrette dressing.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.