Recipes utilizing spring vegetables

The spring garden hodgepodge from Deborah Madison's "Vegetable The spring garden hodgepodge from Deborah Madison's "Vegetable Literacy." Photo Credit: Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton

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After months of cooking with vegetables shipped in from warmer climes (or plucked from the freezer), we're seeing the first asparagus, peas and other good green things of spring.

To make the most of the season's bounty, we turn to Deborah Madison, poet laureate of American vegetarians, whose newest book, "Vegetable Literacy" (Ten Speed Press, $40), is her richest to date.

Taking a plant's-eye view of the culinary landscape, Madison groups her vegetables by botanical family and finds unexpected harmonies between such cousins as carrots and coriander and parsley; eggplants and tomatoes; cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.

For spring, we offer three of Madison's simple, elegant recipes.


SPRING GARDEN HODGEPODGE OF RADISHES, LEEKS AND PEAS DEPENDING ...

"Depending is the operative word when there is a garden or good farmers market," Madison writes in "Vegetable Literacy." Feel free to substitute ramps or green garlic or spring onions for the leeks; slivered snow peas or sugar snaps for the peas.

Handful of baby radishes, plus their greens

3 thin leeks, white part plus a little of the pale green, sliced (about 1/2 cup)

10 ounces pod peas, shucked (about 3/4 cup), or frozen peas, thawed

3 thick asparagus spears, tough ends trimmed, peeled and sliced on the diagonal

Butter

1/2 to 1 cup water or chicken or vegetable broth (see note)

Sea salt

About 1 teaspoon finely chopped tarragon

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1. Trim the radishes and slice them lengthwise, making all the pieces more or less the same size. Also wash and dry the greens, and ready the leeks, peas and asparagus.

2. When you are about ready to eat, melt a few teaspoons butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and 1/2 cup of the water or broth and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with a few pinches of salt, add the radishes and asparagus, and simmer 3 minutes. Next, add the peas and radish greens, making sure there is liquid in the pan as you go and adding more, if needed. Continue cooking until the peas are bright green and the leaves are tender, about 2 minutes longer. The radish leaves will wilt and look a little funky, but they will taste mild and slightly nutty.

3. When the vegetables are done, remove from heat, add a heaping spoonful of butter, season with salt, and stir in the tarragon and lemon juice. Taste and adjust the seasonings, and serve. Makes 2 servings.


PEAS WITH BAKED RICOTTA AND BREAD CRUMBS

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To make this rich vegetable dish into a main course, add cooked pasta. Madison suggests shells into which "the peas nestle ... like little green pearls."

Olive oil

1 cup high-quality full-fat ricotta cheese

2 to 3 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs

4 teaspoons butter

2 large shallots or 1/2 small onion, finely diced (about 1/3 cup)

5 small sage leaves, minced (about 11/2 teaspoons)

11/2 pounds pod peas, shucked (about 1 cup), or frozen peas, thawed

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Parmesan cheese, for grating

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a small baking dish about 6 inches across. If ricotta is wet and milky, drain it by putting it in a colander and pressing out the excess liquid. Pack the ricotta into the dish, drizzle a little olive oil over the surface, and bake 20 minutes, or until the cheese has begun to set and brown on top. Cover the surface with the bread crumbs and continue to bake until the bread crumbs are browned and crisp, about 10 minutes longer.

2. When the cheese is finished baking, heat the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the shallots and sage and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the peas, 1/2 cup water, and the lemon zest. Simmer until the peas are bright green and tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and a little freshly ground pepper.

3. Divide the ricotta between 2 plates. Spoon the peas over the cheese. Grate some Parmesan over all and serve warm. Makes 2 servings.


OPEN-FACED SANDWICH OF SPINACH, CARAMELIZED ONIONS AND ROASTED PEPPERS

"This is a knife and fork sandwich," writes Madison, "but if you're a fan of panini, make each sandwich with two slices of bread, and press."

For caramelized onions:

2 pounds onions

3 tablespoons butter or olive oil, or a mixture

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

For the sandwiches:

1 hefty bunch of spinach, at least a pound, stems removed, leaves well washed

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 roasted red peppers

1 piece of bread per person, such as ciabatta, rye or a whole-grain levain bread

1 clove garlic, halved

Thinly sliced manouri or ricotta salata

Olive oil, to finish

1. Halve the onions, peel and slice them about 1/4 inch thick. Heat butter in skillet with deep sides over medium-high heat. Add onions, turn them to coat with butter and cook, stirring every 5 minutes or so. A lot of juices will be released at first, and as they cook away, you'll notice they will start to sizzle. This will take about 20 minutes. At this point, lower the heat and continue cooking, stirring often, until onions are golden. The cooking will take nearly an hour in all. When done, season with salt and pepper.

2. In another pan, wilt the spinach in the water that's still clinging to its leaves; season with salt and pepper. Slice the peppers into wide strips.

3. Toast the bread, then rub one side with the garlic. Cover with the onions, followed by the spinach, the cheese, then the roasted peppers placed diagonally across the top. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. Makes 2 to 4 servings.

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