SPRING FRESH

recipes + photography SANDY GARSON

Spring Chicken with Shallots and Honey

What makes this Moroccan recipe so delicious is the balance between black pepper and honey in the sauce and the caramelized shallots.

Serves 4

1 medium onion, chopped
¼ cup sunflower, corn or canola oil
1 pinch saffron threads
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 pounds chicken parts (you can buy parts or cut up a small bird)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper (lots of pepper)
1 cup water or chicken broth
1 pound shallots, peeled, with roots off
1½ tablespoons clear honey
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds or chopped almonds, for garnish

In a large heavy-gauge lidded pan or casserole, warm the oil over medium heat and add the chopped onion. Sauté 3–4 minutes to soften. Stir in the saffron threads, ginger and cinnamon. Arrange the chicken in a single layer in the pan. Season with salt and pepper as you normally would. Cook to brown the chicken on all sides, turning it with tongs as you go.

Pour in water/broth, cover the pot, lower heat to simmer and cook 7–8 minutes. Lift the lid and flip the chicken pieces. Cover the pan and continue cooking another 7–8 minutes. Add the shallots, cover the pan and cook another 15 minutes. Flip the chicken pieces, stir the shallots, cover the pan again and cook another 10–12 minutes, until all the chicken parts are tender. Add liquid if the pan looks dry.

Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and set aside on a plate. Stir in the honey and about ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Do not cover the pan now. Just cook over low heat until all the water/broth has evaporated and the shallots are caramelized and meltingly soft. How long depends on your stove.

Return the chicken to the pan, spoon the shallots on top and heat everything through; 3 minutes should do it. Arrange the pan contents on a serving platter and sprinkle the toasted sesame seeds or almonds on top. You can also add a handful of chopped cilantro for color.

Asparagus Bread Pudding

This recipe is from my book, Veggiyana: the Dharma of Cooking.

Serves 8–10

1½ pounds fresh asparagus
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium leek, cleaned
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces Gruyere cheese
1½ cups half and half
3 extra-large or jumbo eggs, separated
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (more to your taste)
2 cups freshly made breadcrumbs (from 3–4 slices firm white bread ground in a food processor)
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 450°.

Cut the bottom inch off each asparagus stalk, then cut the remaining stalks into four equal pieces. Line a shallow roasting dish, or large toaster pan tray, with foil and put the asparagus pieces on it. Coat them with the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Roast for 10 minutes at 450°. Remove from heat.

Reduce oven heat to 350°. Butter an 8-inch square or round cake pan.

Dice the leek. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small sauté pan over medium heat and add the leek and thyme. Sauté on medium-low heat until the leeks are soft, 3–5 minutes.

Pour half and half into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer (bubbles at the pot edge). While waiting, put the cheese into a food processor bowl and chop it.

Add the roasted asparagus to the bowl. With the machine running, pour in the warm half and half. Do not over process. Add the remaining butter and 1 egg yolk at a time, processing with the pulse button to incorporate the 3. Add the leeks from the sauté pan and salt and pepper. Add the breadcrumbs and quickly process just to blend.

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold them and the lemon zest into the asparagus mixture. Optional: Sprinkle on top ⅛ teaspoon smoked paprika and ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg.

Pour into the baking pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan and pour into that pan enough water to reach halfway up the sides of the pudding pan.

Bake in the center of the oven at 350° 40–50 minutes, depending on whether you use convection or not, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from heat and cool on a rack 10 minutes. Invert onto a serving platter and serve warm.

Georgian Spinach Pâté

This recipe from the Caucasus contains walnuts so be very careful as some people are allergic to them. I always put a walnut on top as a hint.

Serves 6

1 pound baby spinach leaves, washed and dry
1 large garlic clove
½ cup walnut pieces or halves
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
½ teaspoon semi–hot ground chili (Aleppo works great)
½ teaspoon coriander seeds or 1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
Black pepper, to your taste
For garnish: walnut halves and/or pomegranate seeds or finely crumbled feta

Blanch or steam the spinach until it wilts. Drain, reserving 2–3 tablespoons of the water, and squeeze it as dry as possible. Chop it finely.

Put the walnuts, sea salt and garlic in a food chopper or processor and grind to an oily paste, which means grinding until the nuts release their oil. If the paste seems too thick, add 2 tablespoons of the spinach water to get it to the consistency of thick hummus. Grind in the chili, coriander, parsley and cilantro. Add the vinegar and push in the chopped spinach. Before you grind, season with freshly ground black pepper. Grind everything into a smooth pâté.

Oil a small bowl with olive oil and pack in the pâté, pushing down and leveling the top. Put a pot lid or something heavy on top and put a weight on top of it. Wrap everything in a plastic bag to seal it and put it in the fridge overnight or for at least 6 hours. Remove it from the cold 30 minutes before you are ready to serve it.

Using a small spatula to loosen the edges, unmold the pâté onto a round plate. Garnish with walnuts. Surround with bread and a knife for spreading.

This can also be a pita sandwich filling, which can be embellished with sour cream or cheese or chopped red onion and cucumber.

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